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Han Nguyen's Nude Compositions featured in the British Journal of Photography

Nude Composition #5, 1996

There is no single formula that guides the practice of Han Nguyen; visual stimuli and, sometimes, instinct shape his work. For Nude Compositions, a selection of which are on show at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California, from 02 May to 14 June, the photographer co-opts the pictorial language of Cubism. Nude forms, rendered in black-and-white and fragmented by layered planes, melt into related shapes and tones – shreds of Cubist paintings; abstract shapes; greys, whites, and blacks. 

Many of the fractured torsos belong to models who the photographer captured years before; others were re-photographed from books and movies; a few are self-portraits. In 1996, Nguyen began to carve up negatives and reassemble them using Scotch tape. The results, which he refers to as “collage negatives,” were then blown up with an enlarger. “I was trying to create images that resemble assemblages or collage,” Nguyen explains, “… at the time I thought it was a good idea and it had never been done before.”

Nguyen moved to the US from Vietnam in 1975 and settled in California. He studied photography at San Diego City College with the aim of becoming a professional commercial and fashion photographer. “Later, I realised that I was more interested in making art through the medium of photography,” he explains. Nguyen’s work exudes a certain elegance and fragility. He unearths beauty in even the most mundane of objects; Nude Compositions is no different. Through applying a Cubist aesthetic, Nguyen disrupts our perception and invites us to look again at the subjects in the frame.