Small Wars.  Photographs by An-My Le. Essay by Richard B. Woodward. Interview by Hilton Als.
Small Wars.  booktease preview.

Small Wars.

Photographs by An-My Le. Essay by Richard B. Woodward. Interview by Hilton Als.
Aperture, New York, 2005. 128 pp., 75 duotone illustrations, 11¾x8¾".

“There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.” This Garry Winogrand “understanding” about still photographs comes to mind while regarding An-My Lê’s seductive, evasive images. Her Yale-trained eye and a large-format black-and-white negative produce results that are more akin to Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson than to Walker Evans or Winogrand; the photographs in Small Wars signal the contemporary transformation of subjectivity and objectivity that instills great complexity into photographic reading and disturbs our sophisticated sense of comfort with visual information. What seems conventional in her work cannot be taken at face value, and even what we see clearly leaves itself open for questions. Accustomed as we are to seeing battlefield reconstructions and reenactors bringing every war from the Revolutionary to Korea back to life on our home soil, it is unsettling to see Vietnam, both the place and the war (though not necessarily at the same time), come to life in Lê’s images. Just as her views of contemporary war games—captioned with a straight face as “Embassy Reinforcement” or “Resupply Operations”— resemble nineteenth-century expeditionary views by O’Sullivan and others, her images of Vietnam’s landscape seem oddly anachronistic. Though made in 1995, in the context of this book they could be either much older, or not really in Southeast Asia. Abrupt shifts of scale bring us close in to uniforms and postures, then leave us at an enormous remove, witnessing military humvees disperse themselves like spiders across an enormous, arid terrarium. We spot a camouflaged figure from behind tall grass, as though we're avoiding detection, and suddenly we’ re all too immersed in the reality of these games. Even in what seem like innocent landscapes we start looking for figures in the grass. The text in Small Wars brings important clarity to this first monograph by an intriguing, Saigon-born photographer in her mid-40s. GEORGE SLADE

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