Photographer An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1960 and arrived in the United States in 1975 as a refugee. Lê attended Stanford University, where she earned her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Biology and earned her Masters of Fine Arts at Yale University.
For her black-and-white and color photography, Lê uses a large-format camera, imitating Civil War photographers like Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Alexander Gardner. The MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program wrote, “An-My Lê is an artist whose photographs of landscapes transformed by war or other forms of military activity blur the boundaries between fact and fiction and are rich with layers of meaning.”
One of Lê’s photographic collections, Small Wars, documents men in the forests of Virginia reenacting Vietnam War battles on the weekends. Karen Irvine, curator for An-My Lê’s exhibit Under the Clouds of War at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, writes, “Instead of addressing her subject by creating reportage images of actual shocking events, she photographs places where war is psychologically anticipated, processed, and relived.” Lê’s motivation for Small Wars was to delve into “the Vietnam of the mind” by examining the effects of war and variations in individual and communal war memories.
Lê is also interested in the glorification of war instead of the recollection of its destructive realities. Another of her photographic collections, 29 Palms, documents the 29 Palms Marine Corps base in the California desert. Before marines deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, they train there for the actualities of war. As Irvine writes, “Lê’s pictures from 29 Palms in many ways subversively mirror the media’s sanitized view of the Iraq war. They present no blood, no gore, no cruelty, no shock; they simply show us preparations for battle.”
Lê has received many awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1997 and a 1996 fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Presented in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Lê’s most recent project, The Silent General, looks at contemporary Louisiana’s fascination with its past, specifically its role in the Civil War and proud membership in the Confederacy. In 2006 she had major exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, and the International Center of Photography Triennial. In 1997 she had a major exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her work has also been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and is a professor in the Department of Photography at Bard College.
Lannan Foundation gifted gelatin silver prints from Lê’s Small Wars and 29 Palms series to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. In addition, Lannan made a grant to the Aperture Foundation in support of the publication Small Wars, the first monograph on Lê’s work, as well as the subsequent book Events Ashore. Selections from her Small Wars series will be included in Lannan’s 2017 exhibition Something Fierce.