CINCINNATI, OH.- The exhibition is comprised of 50 gelatin silver prints with selections from An-My Lê's series 29 Palms (2003-present) and Small Wars (1999-2002). 29 Palms takes its name from the Marine base in southern California's Mojave Desert where she photographs American soldiers performing military training exercises in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. In this process the soldiers both rehearse their own roles and play the parts of their adversaries, a practice that includes many elements of artifice including tagging the military housing with mock anti-American graffiti and having the soldiers dress up as Iraqi police and civilians. Lê works with a large-format camera to capture these images of staged war, in compositions that give equal weight to the landscape in which the theater occurs.
Lê's Small Wars series addresses how we remember, glorify, and imagine war after the fact. Lê, who was born in Saigon in 1960 and came to the United States as a refugee in 1975, created this series to explore, as she describes it, "the Vietnam of the mind." By joining the Vietnam War re-enactors on weekends in the woods of Virginia, Lê explores the absurdity of both war and its simulation, but does not make a mockery of the men's actions. Sensitive to the fact that what motivates them is often a complex web of psychological need, fantasy, and a passion for history, Lê probes the ways in which our memories and perceptions of the Vietnam War have been molded, and obscured, by Hollywood and the media. In the process she reminds us that violent battle is something that most of us can only imagine.
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.