Artist builds stepping stones to success

Published: 27/03/2009 05:00



Le Nguyen Vy hopes his art will be remembered forever, his chosen medium is certainly durable – Vy was one of the first artists in the country to superimpose photographs on stone.

Artist Le Nguyen Vy in his workshop. The artist had to remortgage his house to pay for research into his ambitious art plan.

Le Nguyen Vy hopes his art will be remembered forever, his chosen medium is certainly durable – Vy was one of the first artists in the country to superimpose photographs on stone.

It’s not only the images of celebrities like President Ho Chi Minh and musician Trinh Cong Son that Le Nguyen Vy sets in stone, he also likes to capture famous landscapes like Ha Long Bay and Ngu Hanh Son Mountain.

The process is delicate and precise and Vy goes out of his way to find the best materials for each photo. Whenever he receives a commission, Vy heads off to streams and rivers in central Quang Nam Province, where he says the best rocks can be found, worn smooth by the running water.

“I always think about the subject of the photograph when I

choose a stone,” he says.

“Portraits often need soft stone, like limestone, while landscapes are better with hard rock like granite, which has rough veins and a light colour. The stone has to be the right size and colour.”

Rags to riches

Vy didn’t just stumble across the idea of setting photos in stone, it was born from a lot of time and effort. Born in Da Nang City in 1950, Vy tried to find his feet with several jobs, including teaching and interior decoration, but nothing really

inspired him. Then he discovered photography.

“Before 1975, taking photos was not easy. I was lucky enough to have a friend who could teach me, but I knew it would be hard to feed my family as a photographer,” he says.

“Portrait photography became more popular in the early 1990s. One day when I was wading through a small stream in my homeland, I noticed a perfectly round stone, worn smooth by the water. It was beautiful. That’s when I thought of superimposing photos onto stones.”

After studying and practising, Vy was finally able to process a black and white photo on stone in 1,995m, while other artists around him were pasting photos onto stone and wood.

People like being reminded of the beauty of nature, he says, especially in this tech-centric age.

“A lot of young people liked having unusual keepsakes and my work was original so I thought there was a niche in the market.”

Le Nguyen Vy developed a technique to superimpose colour images onto stone in its natural state. He has since started using seashells.

But fortune wasn’t all smiles in the early days, as the fashion changed from black and white to colour. “I didn’t know how to do colour photos,” he says. “In a short space of time, all my art materials, which were worth millions of dong, became useless.”

Desperate to find a silver lining, Vy started to learn the techniques all over again – this time for colour photos. And this time, he learnt how to superimpose photos without changing the shape of the stone.

To do this, he needed to buy advanced technology and quality chemicals. This needed money. With the full support of his wife and children, Vy remortgaged his house and sold his motorbike, the only one in the family.

“Of course we were worried, but we trusted Vy knew what he

Vy receives a certificate from the Vietnam Record Books Centre for his art work - the first of its kind in Vietnam.

was doing,” says Vy’s wife Tran Thi Chanh.

“We believed he would succeed.”

It took him ten years, but Vy finally turned his dream into reality in 2005 when he sold his first colour photos on stone.


His venture has been a roaring success. Since 2005, Vy has held exhibitions in Da Nang City and opened a gallery in HCM City.

Chau Thang, a resident in southern Kien Giang Province, says he was very impressed by the stone photos, especially the photos of the late President Ho Chi Minh and musicians Trinh Cong Son.

“I saw Vy’s stones when I was visiting HCM City. I was really impressed with the fine detail captured in the stone. I ordered two photos. They are special because they are so durable.”

Going from one success to another, in 2007 Vy clinched a place in the HCM City-based Vietnam Book of Records for his product – the first of its kind in the country.

Personal touch

Although Vy needs technology to superimpose the photos in a process he keeps top secret, each piece is unique and has a personal touch.

“The artist has to have a keen eye to make the most out of the colour, light and texture of the stone,” he says.

“Sometimes, when the colour is good, the texture is too rough. Sometimes when the texture is just right, the veins of colour are not in the right place. I can take advantage of a vein of colour to highlight part of the photo.”

One piece can take months to complete.

“The most difficult thing is superimposing the photo onto the stone. Once that’s done, the stone is varnished with a special protective chemical that will keep it from fading for 20 years or more.

“I think of the process as a song: the stone’s vein is the rhythm, the colour is the musical scale and the photo is singing.”

Today, Vy works from dawn until dusk fulfilling orders. The artist has also developed ways to print photos on seashells.

“For me, one quality work is better than ten badly-done pieces,” he says.

“My dream is to build up an export market, so people from other countries can also treasure a long-lasting, original piece of Vietnamese art in their homes.”


Provide by Vietnam Travel

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