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Photographs by An-My Le. Text by Geoff Dyer.
An-My Lê'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 Lê'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, Lê 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 Lê 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, Lê has assembled a visual narrative of hardware, personnel, destinations, and points of contact that constitutes the American military experience--and influence.