An-My Lê: 29 Palms and the Beauty of War

An-My Lê fled Vietnam with her family as a teenager in 1975, settling in the United States as a political refugee. Although she lived directly through a war and produces war photography, An-My Lê challenges conventional war relationships. Instead of using anti-war propaganda, grotesque imagery, or a ‘shock factor’ in her work, An-My Lê steps back and widens the scope of war imagery in order to find beauty in war.

In 2003 An-My Lê’s petitioned to be an embedded photographer in Iraq was denied. She explains in an interview with Art21 how she came to photograph scenes at 29 Palms in California. It is here were she documented soldiers preparation for war and their relationship with the surrounding environment. Karen Irvine, curator at Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) where 29 Palms showed in 2007, states that stepping back an having a relationship with war in this manner further challenges the concepts of photojournalism and the authenticity of war photography. However in an interview with Art21, An-My Lê does not discuss the concept of photojournalism in her work, but rather her fascination with war and its relationship to the land.

Most of the work in the series uses faded tones to artful blend soldier and landscape. This wash allows for the melding of man and the environment. An-My Lê is fascinated with the idea and construction of war, mobilizing men and machine, and strategy. Looking through this lens she removes partisan view points and looks at war as a whole. Instead of seeking out the horrors of war An-My Lê looks for the beauty.

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Force Recon, 2003-04, gelatin silver print

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Mechanized Assault, 2003-04, gelatin silver print

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Infantry Platoon, Retreat, 2003-04 gelatin silver print

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Infantry Officers’ Brief, 2003-04 gelatin silver print

 

Sources:

Art21

An-My Lê’s Website

MoCP Curator Karen Irvine’s discussion of 29 Palms and Small Wars

29 Palms Curatorial Checklist

 

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