Fine Art Photography

Vinhay Keo on Breaking from Tradition and Layering Meaning through the Printing Process

November 15, 2019

By Chromaluxe (Sponsored)

All Photos © Vinhay Keo

If done well, a unique printing process can convey an added layer of meaning to a photograph. Vinhay Keo, whose work references intergenerational trauma and his place in the artistic canon, was surprised by the depth that the ChromaLuxe aluminum prints added to the images in his solo exhibition, Dancing in Darkness, at Moremen Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky during the Louisville Photo Biennial. “The images took on new life that I couldn’t have predicted,” he says. 

Keo’s trajectory as an artist is not typical. He doesn’t come from a lineage of artists; in fact, the artmaking traditions of his native Cambodia were nearly obliterated during the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, he explains. “Artists, musicians, and dancers were disproportionately targeted,” he says. “With 90 percent of artists wiped out, there was very little knowledge of the arts or experts in the field who carried forward art-making traditions.”

Exploring this generational trauma and the violence of the Vietnam War has been the “broad stroke of my work so far,” he says. These cultural influences and his own geographical uprooting—his family moved from Southeast Asia to the American South when he was ten years old—have been formative. He stumbled into art, “almost as a form of rebellion against what was expected of me.”

But it was also a big step forward in his family to receive a college education. The artist, now 25, is preparing to defend his M.F.A. thesis at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, after completing his B.F.A. at the Kentucky College of Art + Design. 

He references his intersectional identity—Cambodian, American, queer—through his interdisciplinary artmaking practice. Though photography is central to his work, he also uses performance, installation and sculpture to establish and acknowledge the limitations of photography, he explains. “The photographic image is still viewed as a depiction of reality or truth. But I’m thinking about how it’s an implicated frame of one scope of truth, but it lacks the extension and the acknowledgment of what’s beyond the frame.” 

In order to explore the multiple truths of living in a marginalized body (as a queer person of color), he captured himself in rapturous movement for his series, Dancer in the Dark. Using colored lights and exposures of between two and 25 seconds, his blurred body references his intersectional identity, and questions, “which bodies are rendered legible and illegible in society,” he says. 

He’s also thinking about the state of ecstasy that can be achieved through dance, especially in gay nightclubs where, “the temporality of the dance floor can be a moment for otherwise marginalized bodies to lean into the notion of ease and comfort,” he says, while also acknowledging the implications of violence in these same nightclubs.

Breaking away from a traditional form of printing for his exhibition, he worked with fine art lab Unique Imaging Concepts to print the resulting photographs on ChromaLuxe as large as 40”x 60” using a dye-sublimation transfer process with a clear aluminum finish. “It gives the photos a wonderful holographic quality,” he says. The ghostly quality of the photos adds to the ephemeral nature of the work: while the residue of the past is still visible, we see the artist suspended in a state of pure joy.

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