Le, An-My

Vietnamese (1960-)

The photographic portfolio of An-My Le (1960) reads like a sustained query into the effects of war and its portrayal by the media. Feeling Saigon, Vietnam in 1975, the final year of the war, Le settled in the US as a political refugee. She studied biology at Stanford, but changed directions mid-course and went on to receive an MFA in Photography from Yale. Not surprisingly, the work she undertook allowed her to process the horrific experiences she’d been through, examining the transformation of her beautiful country into a war-torn wasteland.

For “Viet Nam,” (1994-1998) Le returned home to capture images of the contemporary landscape; in each case, the tension between memory and actuality caused pain for the artist. Soon after, Le turned her attention to humanity’s fascination with war: “Small Wars” (1999-2002) chronicles Vietnam War reenactments in South Carolina and “29 Palms” (2003-04) follows US Marines training for battle by taking part in role-playing missions in the middle of the California desert. Having been denied permission to photograph the war in Iraq as a journalist, Le – through her work – raises questions about the trustworthiness of supposedly objective historical accounts of war. In a world where news has become a form of entertainment, could we trust an account of war from anyone who hadn’t lived through its horrors? Would anyone else feel the conviction to be honest in the reportage?