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Imprinting impressions on sea shells

Update: January, 01/2017 - 09:00
Written on stone: A photograph printed on a stone pendant.
Viet Nam News

by Công Thành

Having succeeded at printing photography on stones and leaves, Lê Nguyên Vỹ started working with sea shells – a tough material for photo printing – and pioneered the art of printing photographs on shells in Việt Nam.

Fishermen from coastal villages helped him collect sea shells from the ocean and from seafood restaurants for his artwork.

Many Đà Nẵng and central region landscapes now appear on his oyster, snail and clam shell prints, which are created manually, using 3-dimensional imagery. The initial photo design and maquette are done on a computer to set up the desired image on a shell.

“It’s a new milestone of my creation. I succeeded in printing photos on stones and leaves, but sea shell is quite a challenge,” Vỹ said.

“Shell surfaces are not flat, so it takes time to print a photo on a shell. It’s amazing,” he said. "Eighty per cent of the printing process on shell is done by hand."

Shell portraits are always the most challenging customer orders. Each portrait must reflect every element of face and gesture on an uneven shell surface.

"I tested photo printing on everything from big to tiny shells, and nothing is impossible,” he said.

Vỹ, 66, was born in Duy Xuyên District of Quảng Nam Province and grew up in Đà Nẵng. He is considered the first innovator of printing photos on leaves and stones.

Shell photo prints can last for centuries with his technique, so customers can preserve their images for a long time.

Vỹ wants to offer special souvenirs for tourists and friends visiting Đà Nẵng and other places in the central coastal region. Tourists can take portraits and impressive landscape photos and have them printed on sea shells within two days.

The artist plans to create shell portraits of leaders of countries participating in the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) Summit in Đà Nẵng next year as gifts. The portraits will also include an image of the red-shanked douc langur (Pygathryx nemaeus) – an endangered species recognised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2013.

In the past, Vỹ successful printed the Bình Ngô Đại Cáo (Proclamation of Victory over Foreign Invaders) – a famous poem composed by the brilliant strategist Nguyễn Trãi in 1428 – on a stone pendant. Shops sold these pendants as souvenirs.

What I’ve done: Lê Nguyên Vỹ displays one of his photographic printings on shell. VNS Photos Công Thành

Photos on crystals

Vỹ also spent three months experimenting with printing photos on crystals.

“It’s quite different. Crystal creates twinkling light effects with light-emitting diodes. Portraits and other images look lively,” said An Dy, a visitor.

“It seems like he puts a live portrait inside crystal. I could not image that photos are imprinted in even tiny size on sea shells and crystals as well as stone and leaf,” she said, adding that it’s extraordinary pieces of artworks and innovation.

Vỹ, who studied philosophy in HCM City, said he wished to recreate everything in life on sea shells, stones and leaves, as well as to tell ocean stories on oyster shells.

In 2007, Vỹ was recognised as the inventor of printing photographs on stone by the Việt Nam Records Book Centre, after nearly 18 years of optimising the process.

"I select stones, leaves, crystals and shells to feature my desires, images and stories. I hope my artworks make Đà Nẵng and the central region not only a World Heritage destination, but a rendezvous for encounters with mysterious creations of stone-crystal-leaf-and shell.”

All the artworks are made by Vỹ and his son on an alley in the Sơn Trà district. Vỹ’s work is on display at a subway near the Holiday Beach Hotel on Sơn Trà peninsula. — VNS

Crystal clear: One of artist Lê Nguyên Vỹ’s creations.
Mixed images: A portrait printed against the background photo of fireworks on a black stone.

 

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