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An-My Lé
Small Wars
HC, 31 x 23 cm., o.pp.
Aperture 2005

An-my Lê was born in Vietnam in 1960 and came to the United States as a political refugee at age fifteen. She received a grant to return to her homeland just after U.S./Vietnamese relations were formally restored. Lê went back several times in 1994?97, creating stunning large-format, black-and-white photographs, expertly printed in a middle-gray scale reminiscent of Robert Adams. These images do not address the war specifically, but rather represent Lê's attempt to reconcile memories of her childhood home with the contemporary landscape that now confronted her. The war haunts the images in eerie metaphors: dozens of kites double as dive-bombing planes; crop fires and construction sites recall napalm and mass graves.
In 1999 Lê began working with Vietnam War reenactors in North Carolina who restage battles as well as the training and daily life of soldiers?both Viet Cong and American GIs. For four summers, she not only photographed but also participated in battles of the Vietnam War restaged on her adopted American soil. Relating to both documentary and staged photography, the work is aesthetically rigorous and conceptually challenging. Soldiers at rest give themselves up to portraiture, while battle compositions recognizable from classic war photojournalism possess the qualities of a dream. Most recently, Lê has photographed exercises performed by the U.S. military in the American desert in preparation for maneuvers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Essay by Richard B. Woodward


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