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An-My Le: Small Wars Hardcover – October 15, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A Saigon native who defected to the U.S. as a political refugee in 1975, Lê—currently a professor of photography at Bard College—has spent the past 20 years creating bold, simple "autobiographical still lifes," three series of which are assembled in this gorgeous new volume. Taken in startling black-and-white with a 5x7-view camera, Lê's still lifes combine the perspective and scope of landscape photography with the intimacy of portraits. And her three series—"Viêt Nam," "Small Wars" and "29 Palms"—depict modern Vietnamese villagers, Vietnam War battle reenactors, and soldiers training for Iraq, respectively. Strangely serene, the photos carefully blur the lines between war- and peacetime. In "Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City, 1998," for example, which shows a park full of people and the enormous sky above, viewers are likely to mistake the darting swallows, blurry from speed, for warplanes swooping over people's heads. For her most recent series, "29 Palms," Lê photographed a troop of Iraq- and Afghanistan-bound marines training in California. Juxtaposing soldiers in Nikes with faux anti-U.S.A. graffiti, Lê invites viewers to consider the nature of war, as well as the gap between smaller re-creations and their larger, more violent and destructive sources. In the volume's concluding pages, essayist Richard B. Woodward provides further insight into Lê's work with an astute look at her place in photographic history. Also included is an insightful interview with journalist Hilton Als in which Lê herself reveals her inspirations and techniques. This a beautifully shot and compiled collection that links Lê both to old war-photo masters like Timothy O'Sullivan and to landscape genre's modern-day practitioners. (Oct.)
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"There is a real brilliance to Lê's skillful use of scale in these three series about war, which together represent ten years of the artist's work." -- Joanna Lehan --Photo District News

"A trilogy of work produced by Lê, a Vietnamese immigrant living in the States, which elucidate the complicated nature of the aesthetics and spectacle of war, even though none of the images are of a real war in action. Relating to both documentary and staged photography, the work is rigorous and conceptually challenging." --HotShoe International

"Her work forms a past, present and future trilogy as much about war as about the photographic image." -- Philip Gefter --The New York Times

"The resulting large-format photographs collected in this handsome volume combine documentary precision with the stagecraft of contemporary art." --Portfolio


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Aperture (October 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931788820
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931788823
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 12.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,341,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
An-My Lê is a photography artist whose technical talent with the 5-by-7-view camera serves to capture her insightful, powerful imagery of landscapes that serve as matrix for the exploration of war and its impact on individuals. She combines images of actual wartime situations with 'practice/artificial' war training camps and the juxtaposition is startlingly surreal in capturing the reality of war.

Lê fled Saigon at age 15 during the US exodus in 1975. For the first series in this stunning portfolio from 1994 to 1999 Lê returned to Vietnam in an attempt to reconnect with her homeland. While there she photographed rural landscapes and urban views that, though still scarred by the incisors of the Vietnam War, are moments connecting her memory of home with the passage of time and change. The images are not manipulated, they are simply shot with clarity and in that vein such powerful photographs as 'Untitled Hanoi, 1995' is at once a stark apartment housing project 'fortress' in the foreground of which is the unfocused movement of young boys playing soccer while a central figure on a tree stump, in focus, stares off into what feels like a broken vision of hope.

In the period of 1999 to 2002 Lê turned her camera toward the activities of a Virginia-based club self-named 'living historians' as the reenacted events from the Vietnam War (wargames these are) and in posing as a player, both civilian and enemy, she managed to penetrate the strange obsession with these men in somehow maintaining the myth of the war. 'GI' is a simple portrait of a reenactor at rest in battle regalia gazing into Lê's camera with occult thoughts of intention. It is a very human testimony to the confusion the concept of war creates.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JCB VINE VOICE on September 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The other day I went to the university library only to discover that it was closed. My natural reaction was to head over to the Henry Art Gallery (in Seattle) to check out the new photography exhibit at the Henry called Small Wars by Vietnamese American photographer An-My Lê. I didn't really know what to expect. I was very pleased that I absolutely loved the photographs. Lê captures compelling the peformativity of war in her two series, "Small Wars" and "29 Palms." The former depicts images of Vietnam reenactors in Virginia and the latter military training and preparation for war in the Middle East on the 29 Palms military base. The images are deeply affective - emoting a sense of absurdity in the very plasticity of the convoluted term we all hear and throw around so often: war. Yet it is in this realization of the "un-realness" of "the wars" in the images that brings forth the disturbing and haunting aura of the word in any and all its permutations, spectral or not.

I just got a copy of _Small Wars_ by An-My Lê (the book, published by the Aperture Foundation), and I've been reliving my experiences seeing the photographs at the Henry. Included in the book that was left out of the exhibit is a series of photographs taken in Vietnam, which serves as the book's opening. The semiotics of the arrangement of the photographs create a powerful narrative of the wars that Lê personally navigates through, in all its fictions and truths. I highly recommend this book! It's fantastic!
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Life does go on, and these photographs capture the beauty and timelessness of a setting so recently ravaged by war. My dream is that the pictures mirror healing of lives as well.
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