Since leaving Vietnam for America in 1991, Brian Doan has embraced photography, the medium he has allowed to surpass his early flirtations with painting and poetry. Through photography he has found a means to explore and chronicle his passions. A formalist by nature, he works primarily with black and white, creating intimate, yet distanced images of people and daily life.
Doan follows his dreams. It is obvious in his work. His love for his homeland and the Vietnamese people is evident throughout. A longing for his homeland, for a youth uninterrupted by politics, for unity amongst his people is expressed in conjunction with his worship of the form and beauty of daily life.
Throughout his career, Doan has focused the majority of his attention on his heritage. He seeks to express the spiritual essence of the Vietnamese people, to address what it means to be Vietnamese at this time in history. His work reflects upon the dilemma of change that has been the result of a turbulent century leaving a rich culture split apart with its people spread around the globe.
Doan's Dream House series is about memory, sexuality and the fantasies of lost youth. It is a recreation of a time of innocence; a time when the influence of Europe provided opulence, the impact of which was not fully felt. The women, stripped bare, in a large, elegant, colonial house, serve as a metaphor for a country that has been raped by others, yet retains its dignity and future potential through the strength of its people.
Photographs of the nude figure, other than as a direct landscape metaphor, are frowned upon within Vietnamese society. Doan has gone beyond normal restraints and sought out women to photograph in Vietnam and was one of the first from the US Vietnamese community to exhibit nudes here.
In the last five years, Doan has had numerous exhibitions, won awards and has curated several exhibitions of work by Vietnamese photographers. In 2000, he initiated and co-curated with Jerry Burchfield an exhibition at Cypress College in California titled TOUCH: Contemporary Vietnamese Photography. This exhibit featured the work of important Vietnamese photographers from around the world. It was the first exhibit in the United States to feature work by artists living both within and outside of Vietnam to be accepted by the Vietnamese community here and in Vietnam. Void of political agendas, the exhibition was about being Vietnamese and the catalogue won an award from the American Museum Association.
Of late, Doan has been producing a series of extended portraits of women called the 24 Hours Series. This project involves shooting a day in the life of fifty different women, which he presents in book form and in long sequential photographic images.
Currently, Brian Doan is living in Colorado and working on several ongoing projects. One of which is a book and traveling exhibition of photographs by Vietnamese photographers living within the United States. Photography is a tool with which he is insuring that the legacy of his people will survive. For Doan, photography is also a magical means for him to express visually the poetry that comes from inside.
THE DREAM HOUSE
I was in a big French colonial house. The smoke-black wooden floor was scratched and dusty. The windows, large and elegant, were covered with ivory colored cotton cloth. It seemed that no one had lived there for a long time. Light entered the house, soft and illusive. It had a dreamlike quality, yet I felt it to be more like the feelings one gets as the mind wanders on a sleepless night. Noise from the street filtered inside and echoed throughout the empty hallways. I could hear young girls giggling in another room. I was oddly aroused.
When I was a small boy, I spent a year living in a similar house with seven female cousins. They were young and beautiful. I was the first and only boy in the family. At the time I was too small to understand my cousin's jealousies, happiness and problems. I saw their naked bodies without realizing the differences between us. Yet they confided in me and told me their secrets. The kids in the neighborhood told me that I was living in a dream house. They were envious of me.
Time has past and I have not seen my cousins since that one fateful year. I left Vietnam, while my cousins stayed and got old. Some have gone to another world.
The pictures in "The Dream House" series are not from the dream house of my youth. The photographs are a recreation made on a recent trip back to Vietnam. The girls are not my cousins, but strangers who agreed to help me flirt with my memories from a time of youthful innocence. Despite the distance created by the inevitability of time, the mood is still the same. It brought me back to the atmosphere that aroused me as a youth and allowed me, once again, to live in a dream house.
Contact Brian Doan at:
Brian Doan at the opening