A story that incorrectly reported an email address for information about a Crosses of Lafayette photo exhibit Sunday at the Lafayette Library Community Hall. The correct email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION (Published 3/12/2014)
Because of erroneous information supplied to this newspaper, story and photo caption about a photography exhibit inspired by the Lafayette Crosses contained a misspelled name. Tony D. de Bellis was one of the volunteers featured in the exhibit.
LAFAYETTE -- One day, Binh Danh was driving along Highway 24 when a sea of white crosses caught his eye.
"Oh my God, what is that?" the acclaimed photographer said he thought before turning around to get another glimpse of the Lafayette hillside.
In a recent phone interview from his home in Arizona, Danh recalled hearing about the Crosses of Lafayette in the news but says the memorial that honors the servicemen and women who lost their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars didn't grab him until he saw it "in real life." "I thought this was an interesting thing to photograph," Danh said about the monument he's been documenting since 2010. "I just returned to the crosses and photographed the way the landscape changed and the seasons changed and the photographs on the crosses changed."
Renowned for creating poetic images exploring themes such as war and memory, the former San Jose resident and Stanford alumnus whose work is collected by more than 20 museums around the country, took his first picture of the famed memorial on Nov. 15, 2010, and continues to photograph the crosses today. Danh will discuss the ongoing series Sunday at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Community Hall. He'll be joined by Crosses founder Jeff Heaton and poet and veteran Fred Norman. An exhibition of digital prints made from the 19th-century daguerreotype images he's created of the crosses, and the volunteers who tend them, is on display at the library gallery until March 21.
Established in 2006 after vandals tore down the dozen or so crosses placed on the hillside three years earlier by Lafayette resident Heaton and his friends, the Crosses of Lafayette has weathered controversy while attracting attention from all over the world.
It seems natural that Danh, who has photographed war memorials everywhere from the United States to his native Vietnam, would be drawn to the Lafayette memorial, where thousands of crosses cover the hillside above the Lafayette BART station. More than 6,700 U.S. service members have died in both wars, but space for more crosses ran out years ago so the total number is depicted on a large white sign.
Danh's images, created on copper plates treated with silver and made light sensitive with iodine, capture the enormity of the thousands of crosses dotting the hillside.
Other pictures focus on smaller, often-gut-wrenching details such as weathered, laminated photographs of soldiers attached to individual crosses, and small flags fluttering at their base.
Shot on location and developed in the van Danh converted into a mobile laboratory and darkroom, the daguerreotypes and subsequent digital prints on display at the library have a haunted, timeless quality.
"It gives me a feeling of war being so archaic; it's so last century when I look at those photographs," said Heaton.
Heaton, along with volunteers Tony D. de Bellis and Michael Kerr, is depicted in one of the photographs, surrounded by buckets and shovels. Volunteers Lynn MacMichael and Bob Hansen are pictured in individual portraits. Exhibit organizer and curator Carol Reif explained that Danh made the photographs one day while the volunteers were tending the crosses; each volunteer later received a print from the photographer and their inclusion, or "voices," is one of three "stories" in the show, Reif said.
"He's been very generous with his time here," Reif added, noting that this is the first time Danh's series has been shown publicly. Danh said he plans to exhibit the Crosses images at the Taubman Museum of Art in Virginia in 2015 as part of a larger display commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
Because lighting requirements and security concerns prevent the display of the actual daguerreotypes, Danh plans to bring a selection of the one-of-a-kind images to Sunday's event. Due to the daguerreotypes' highly reflective surfaces, viewers on Sunday will be able to experience the images in a unique way.
"What I like about daguerreotypes is that they have this mirrored surface where the viewer sees themselves in the photograph and in a way is able to contemplate the present moment and what they're looking at," Danh says. "The community (can) see themselves as part of the picture and bear witness to the landscape."
What: "In Memory Of ..." a public program featuring photographer Binh Danh, Crosses of Lafayette organizer Jeff Heaton and veteran and activist Fred Norman
When: 2-4:30 p.m. March 2
Where: Lafayette Library Community Hall, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd.