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“Tiny Art”: Photo Printing on Stones, Leaves, Sea Shells and Crystals

Le Nguyen Vy is a famous artist in Vietnam known for his photography printing on stones and leaves. Today, he has made another name to himself as he became the first artist in Vietnam to print photographs on shells, a very difficult medium for the art, but something which he succeeded in and continually developing.

Sea shells are difficult to work with because they are not flat. It takes a long time to finish each item but Vy patiently and diligently works on each piece, even manually creating his works of art. 80% of his printing is done by hand. He uses a three-dimensional imagery in which the original picture or design and maquette are done on a computer in order to create the desired image on the shell.

Customers usually order Da Nang and Central region landscapes which are printed on either oysters, snails or clam shells. But shell portraits are also in demand, which are quite formidable since the shell has an uneven surface and each detail or feature of a face, hand or gesture has to be precise. But being a master at his craft, Vy does all these with meticulous accuracy, if not perfection. In fact, his work is bringing so much joy and pride to his community that even the fishermen from coastal villages help him collect sea shells from the ocean and from seafood restaurants for his art work.

Vy’s creations only takes two days to finish, so customers don’t have to wait too long to own a remarkable piece of art. Most of all, his particular technique makes his work last for centuries, so buying his creations is not simply getting a souvenir, but actually an investment.

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Among the artist’s famous work is a popular poem written by Nguyen Trai in 1428, Binh Ngo Dai Cao (Proclamation of Victory Over Foreign Invaders), on a stone pendant which sold like pancakes in souvenir shops. In 2007, he was recognized by Viet Nam Records Book Centre as “the inventor of printing photographs on stone.” He spent 18 years studying and perfecting the art.

Aside from stones, leaves and shells, Vy also ventured into crystal photo printing. He studied the craft for three months, saying he got interested in it because crystals have a natural twinkling characteristic, making his work even more attractive, if not life-like.

His next project is to make shell portraits of the leaders of the countries which will be attending the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Danang next year as gifts to them. The design will include an image of the red-shanked douc langur (Pygathryx nemaeus), an endangered species recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2013.

Le Nguyen Vy was born in Duy Xuyen District of Quang Na Province and grew up in Da Nang. He studied Philosophy in Ho Chi Minh City. He is currently 66 years old. It is his desire to “recreate everything in life and tell ocean stories” and it deemed apt to do so in the medium he has chosen because they all represent life. It is also his fervent hope that through his art, Da Nang and the central region will be recognized not only as a World Heritage destination, but as a melting pot of a one-of-a-kind but truly extraordinary art in tiny objects such as his stone, leaf, shell and crystal photo printing.

Vy’s son has inherited his talent and is helping him with his work. Their creations can be appreciated at an alley in Son Tra District and on a subway near the Holiday Beach Hotel in Son Tra peninsula.


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