An-My Lê’s “On Contested Ground” at the Amon Carter Museum – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
If a picture is worth a thousand words, An-My Lê’s photographs say a lot about the complexity of American history and conflicts. An-My Lê: On contested ground, now on view through August 8 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, reveals his nuanced perspective on military life and the legacy of war.
Born in Saigon in 1960, Le remembers the sights and sounds of the Vietnam War before the U.S. military evacuated her and her family in 1975.
Showcasing more than 70 photographs, this nationwide traveling exhibition is a retrospective of the career of this Vietnamese-American photographer. Divided into five series, Lê investigates the history of conflicts from the 1990s to the present day.
Lê uses a large format camera, photographing awe-inspiring landscapes in the tradition of 19th century photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan and Matthew Brady.
“You will see that she is really interested in the people, but not the people up close, the people who operate in the country around them,” said Kristen Gaylord, associate curator of photographs at the museum.
The first series, Vietnam, presents black and white photographs that Lê took during his first trip to Vietnam, 20 years after his family was evacuated. Before this trip, Lê knew his homeland only through the prism of war films and cultural stereotypes.
“She’s the one who works through all these different images to find a Vietnam that feels familiar to her,” Gaylord said.
Lê often asked subjects to pose or recreate a specific activity. The photographs show the evolution of Vietnam from a theater of war to a modern nation marked by its complicated history. A photo of a soccer match looks more spontaneous, but Lê uses architecture to frame the movement of the match.
“It’s very classic, but it’s a street scene from a boys’ football game,” Gaylord said.
Lê never felt more American than when she was photographing Vietnam. While continuing her research on the war and the country, she discovered reenactments of the Vietnam War in North Carolina and Virginia. These reconstructions inspired Small wars, the second series of the exhibition.
The reenactors allowed Lê to photograph their activities if she agreed to participate. She often played a North Vietnamese soldier or a Viet Cong rebel.
“The men were really excited about her because she’s Vietnamese. She’s another genuine thing to add to their re-enactment, ”Gaylord said.
Although the situations and the equipment are precise, the environment reveals the true place of the reenactments.
“If you know your gear, you might think it’s a historical picture, but then the earth isn’t quite correct,” Gaylord said.
While working with reenactors, Lê did not meet any ex-combatants. A few participants were non-combat veterans while others were related to those who served. Like Lê, they wanted to understand the mythology and legacy of the Vietnam War.
“They were all grappling with the legacy of the Vietnam War in their own way,” Gaylord said.
When Lê failed to obtain credentials to integrate into the military on the front lines of the Iraq war, she photographed military exercises at 29 Palms, a Navy base in California. . The third series, 29 palm trees, represents a change in the creative direction of Lê.
“While this series [Small Wars] talks about the legacy of war, this series [29 Palms] is about preparing for war, ”Gaylord said.
Photographing the training exercises in the Californian desert, Lê highlights the enveloping landscape.
“We think the US military is so overwhelming, but compared to the vastness of the country, it can really shrink,” Gaylord said.
She photographed the tense moments of training as well as the tedious work.
“It’s not the action-packed glamor side of the military. It’s between. It’s boredom. That’s the difficulty of the training drills, ”Gaylord said.
Lê captures men awaiting follow-up under a scorching sun, reminding Gaylord of an impressionist painting.
“This speckled light passing through the tent and playing at leisure on the bodies of these men reminds me of Renoir’s paintings at the Kimbell,” Gaylord said.
For the fourth series, Shore events, Lê switches to color to photograph the crews of American ships around the world. Photographed for nine years, it documents diplomatic, humanitarian and political activities, showing the global reach of the US military.
“She really never photographs real fights. It is its reconstitution, its preparation. It’s everything the military does that isn’t a fight, ”Gaylord said.
From a striking portrait of the hospital ship, Pity, a photograph of men washing the side of a ship, Lê captures exquisite images of the awe-inspiring and the mundane.
Lê continues to work on General silent, the fifth series of the exhibition.
“This series, which is ongoing, expands outward and becomes much more open and poetic as it begins to look beyond that and other depictions of the division in this country, of the protests. on other topics, the 2016 election, and now COVID-related footage, ”Gaylord said.
The series began in 2015 with Le photographing on the set of Jones Free State, an American Civil War drama starring Matthew McConaughey. Focusing on the legacy of the Civil War, Lê’s photographs removed monuments of the Civil War, current protest movements, border areas, and farm workers.
Lê took these photographs in Louisiana, California, Texas and New York, all contested grounds. Each photograph shows how this nation’s current socio-political conflicts are rooted in its history. Lê’s photographs are an invitation to a contemporary discussion.
“It’s very open,” Gaylord said.
Learn more: https://www.cartermuseum.org/