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An-My Lę: Events Ashore
Text by Geoff Dyer.
An-My Lę's first publication, Small Wars, brought together three bodies of black-and-white work (Vietnam, Small Wars and 29 Palms), offering a trilogy of tautly rendered examinations of landscape, war, memory and spectacle. This earlier work examined the troubling beauty that both informs and binds Hollywood evocations and photojournalistic documents of conflict to Lę's childhood experiences in wartime Vietnam. Events Ashore continues her exploration of the American military, a pursuit both personal and civic. With this body of work, however, Lę emerges as a master colorist, employing the compositional precision and subtlety of palette of the large-format color negative to render the kaleidoscopic shifts of terrain and sudden intrusions of beauty, atmosphere and psychology within her observations of the military at work.
Events Ashore began when the artist was invited to photograph US naval ships preparing for deployment to Iraq, the first in a series of visits to battleships, humanitarian missions in Africa and Asia, training exercises, and scientific missions in the Arctic and Antarctic. As Lę explains, these trips allowed her to study close at hand the military's noncombat activities, becoming "a launching point for an examination of the U.S. military on the global stage across oceans and borders as a symbol of conflict, an echo of the age of exploration, and an unlikely (and unsung) force in the unfolding environmental crisis … This work is as much about my perspective and personal history as a political refugee from Vietnam as it is about the vast geopolitical forces and conflicts that shape these landscapes." With this body of work, Lę has assembled a visual narrative of hardware, personnel, destinations, and points of contact that constitutes the American military experience--and influence.
An-My Lę (born 1960) received her BAS and MS degrees from Stanford University and an MFA from Yale University. She is currently a professor of photography at Bard College and is the recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2012, she became a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Her work has been widely shown and collected internationally, including at The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Bibliothčque Nationale de France, Paris; and the Queensland Art Gallery, Australia, among others.
Featured image is reproduced from An-My Lę: Events Ashore.
PRAISE AND REVIEWS
The speed, action and sense of peril common to news photographs of conflict are largely absent from her pictures. instead, readers get the impression of a massive force lumbering deliberatley across the globe, from Australia to Panama, Antarctica, Greenland and elsewhere.
In Le's beautiful portraits, officers and other personnel appear placid, stoic, almost bored-another day at the office, keeping watch on a multi-billion-dollar aircraft carrier as it ambles through the Arabian Gulf.