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  • Asela Lee Kemper

Meet The Artists of Chopsticks Alley Art's Upcoming "Fragments" Exhibit: Doan Thoi

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

As a photographer, Doan Thoi brings new life through his black-and-white photos. His first introduction to photography started when his father, whom Thoi admits he got his “shutter-bug” from, gifted him his first camera—a small, pointer shoot camera—which Thoi used as a hobbyist. It wasn’t until he took an Intro to Photography class at San Jose State University that he fell in love with the art and bought his first serious camera.

Thoi credits his dark room class for solidifying his interest. After Thoi saw his photos printed for the first time, he started taking photography seriously. He explains, “It’s very different from the way that you experience photos nowadays typically which would be Instagram [and] sometimes with websites. It’s all through a screen. It’s truly game-changing, I think, for a lot of people, when they see their photos in print because I don’t use a lot of color, but you get to see colors come to life if you use it.”

The majority of Thoi’s photos are taken in black-and-white. “It just gives a better sense of scale, really brings out the most in the photo,” he says. “Also, I like to make work that is more abstracted and black-and-white provides that."

His collection of photos will be displayed for the upcoming art exhibition by Chopsticks Alley Art, titled Fragments:

Hidden under layers of assimilation, tradition, the longing to belong, and the ache of change when society shuts down and old philosophies break into gray space...fragments of us wait to be gathered and restored to wholeness.

The artists in this exhibit share two traits: their awareness of juxtaposed truths about themselves, and the courage to lean into what seems to be broken yet ultimately brings peace.

As members of one human race, our own psyches contain pieces of a whole; we are multitudes. Each of us on a journey, we have yet to meet all versions of ourselves. At crucial points of growth, we look within to discover rich tunnels of expression.

May you find, within each artist’s story, an encouragement to your own.

The exhibition will showcase four artists including Dr. Jerry Hiura, Mark F. Erickson, and Hadi Aghaee. (Exhibit Brochure)

Thoi has released personal projects including Questioning, Rooted, and Nomad, which he self-published as a zine. Thoi looks up to pop artist Andy Warhol and documentary photographer Ren Hang as his artistic inspirations.

His first project, Questioning, originated as an assignment from his dark room class with the prompt “The Personal is Political.” Thoi had a hard time coming up with his response to the theme until he decided to explore his religion by taking pictures of churches in the San Jose area.

Thoi shared that his father used to photograph churches for their beauty. “All of the churches are very pretty on the inside and on the outside,” Thoi agrees. “But I think that religion has evolved to be an increasingly politically-charged subject. And so I think that I just went to churches to document my experience in Christianity and Catholicism.”

Thoi also uses photography to explore his Vietnamese heritage. While he has a different perspective being half-Vietnamese, Thoi loves the culture and language. He titled his second project Rooted, a short series featuring shots of himself practicing different stances in wushu (kungfu). While it didn’t come from Vietnamese culture, Thoi understands that many Eastern philosophies “connect with each other” and he used Rooted as a “documentation of [me] exploring different aspects of my culture.”

His last project Nomad, which he published as a zine, documents people riding public transit in black-and-white. Before the pandemic hit, Thoi had been working on an expanded version of this project. However, lockdown required public transits in San Jose to be temporarily shut down. As Thoi adapted to working and attending school from home, he started to “look into a different direction.” This period of change included a new living environment, away from his family.

Alone and with time to think about his “station in life,” Thoi made the most of his surroundings. He decided to take photos of his daily experience while he and his girlfriend, who works in healthcare, were in quarantine together.

“Like a lot of people, being isolated added a mental effect on me, too. I was documenting that mental effect….this is kind of a transitional period for me. I’m documenting the fact that I’m moving away from what I used to know into a future that is more my own.”

For Thoi, his work being displayed at the Fragments exhibition marks the first time that his photos will be displayed outside of college, and he is excited to see his work displayed alongside other generations of Southeast Asian artists’.

“I just really [hope] any audience who sees it will get a sense of who [I am], what I do and what my style is,” he expresses. “Whether or not people like the photos, that’s really out of my hands. If people can see part of my experience during the pandemic or see a little bit more about me...that is a personal, major goal of mine.”

Thoi hopes to publish his own photo book someday. Although he is still attending university, Doan Thoi has a bright future as a photographer.

You can find him on his website, Instagram, and Twitter and get a copy of his zine, Nomad.

Meet Thoi and all of the artists at Chopsticks Alley Art’s exhibition Fragments at the opening ceremony on January 15, 2021!

If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.

Asela L. Kemper

Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Co-Editor

Asela holds a BFA in Creative Writing with a minor in Emerging Media & Digital Arts from Southern Oregon University. She holds many positions including poetry reader for Timberline Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Marías at Sampaguitas, Silk Club: QUIET!, Reclamation Mag and No Tender Fences. Asela uses her passion for creative writing to open conversations on diversity and identity in literature, engage and uplift underrepresented Asian American artists. She resides in Oregon, USA with her family.

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