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Canberra Today 8°/13° | Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Bistro Binh serves up photos of the wilderness

Le Thanh Binh’s “Track Milky Way Panorama” photo taken at Westerman Hut, Namadji National Park. He took up to 60 shots of the sky as the light in it changed across 270 degrees of the sky, then Photoshopped the hut and sky images together to get the best version of how the scene made him feel.

Canberra author NOEL BEDDOE continues his occasional series in praise of the ACT, this time in the company of the remarkable restaurateur-cum-photographer Binh Le Thanh.

The bistro Lido in Belconnen is open seven days a week; it operates every day of the year that the Westfield complex is open. 

Noel Beddoe.

If you have been there you will have encountered Binh Le Thanh. He greets and welcomes; he controls the till; he keeps an eye that patrons’ orders are being created and delivered promptly – if staff are slow he’ll collect someone’s meal himself and take it to a table. 

He impresses as having extraordinary, never-flagging energy and has a formidable memory for customers’ names. He opens the bistro a bit after seven in the morning and locks it up a bit after three in the afternoon. He never takes a morning tea or lunch break. He has not missed a day’s work in Lido in seven years.

Does the routine wear him down?

Asked, he gestured at the then-empty room.

“This,” he said, “is my home. The customers are like family – they like to chat, to tell me their news, and ask after me.”

Where will he be in 10 years time?

“Here, doing what I do now.”

Photographer Binh Le Thanh… “I spend time in parks and in the Tidbinbilla Nature reserve. I’m fascinated by the birdlife in those places, the wildlife.”

What brought him to Australia from Vietnam?

“I accepted a scholarship to further my study of classical guitar and came to Sydney in 2007. Eventually I came to study at the Australian National University and did bits and pieces of work helping out here in Lido.”

Why is he not now a classical guitarist?

“I was performing in Adelaide and I pushed myself too far – this was in 2014. I damaged ligaments in my right hand. Now, if I play I get pain in that hand. After a while of performing the pain becomes unbearable. I can’t play the guitar to any meaningful standard any more.”

If you lose a source of meaning and beauty in your life, what do you do?

Binh: “I have been surrounded by an interest in photography all of my life; my father and brother still run a photography store in Hanoi. 

“I got in the habit of finishing in the bistro and getting out into a wetlands or wilderness; I visited the Jerrabomberra wetland most days for two years. 

“I spend time in parks and in the Tidbinbilla Nature reserve. I’m fascinated by the birdlife in those places, the wildlife. 

“I took sports photographs for a while and sold them to different publications but I like being outdoors best. I like to watch the interactions between birds and animals. I try to capture what they’re feeling at the instant of taking the photograph. I try to get how watching them makes me feel.”

For me he succeeds. He has created photographs of the fragile beauty of a robin perched in a fence post with the threatening glow of approaching bushfire smoke the background; of an absurd, bellicose pelican, great mouth agape, advancing threateningly on a pair of black swans; delicate birds hovering in air to feed hungry offspring in a nest and the curiosity and confidence of a wetlands fox and its capacity for cruelty.

A bird portrait by Le Thanh Binh.

Some of his remarkable work decorates the walls of Lido. He also creates calendars every year using recent photographs as the monthly decorations; one memorable production captured his interaction over several months with that fox at Jerrabomberra.

“He got used to me. Every day he saw me he’d come closer. In the end he would stand just a few metres away from me and watch what I was doing. I think he was curious,” says Bihn.

Is his work for sale?

“Oh yes. People buy from me here in Lido, or they buy pieces off the net; I’ve got a gallery on the internet.”

Sold many?

“I can’t give you an exact figure. It’s up around a thousand; maybe a thousand by now.”

At $250 to $600 a unit, a thousand units – I did the maths and immediately saw young Mr Binh Le Thanh in a new light.

Fifty-four pieces of his extraordinary work are on exhibition in the Kyeema Gallery behind the tasting room of Capital Wines in Hall, Thursday to Sunday until April 7. 

Noel Beddoe’s writing has twice been awarded by The Literature Board of The Australia Council for the Arts.

Someone’s got to go and collect the crickets…

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