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29 Palms: Force Recon

  • Accession Number:
    2011:81
  • Artist:
    Lê, An-My
  • Date:
    2003-2004; printed 2018
  • Medium:
    Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions:
    frame: 38 1/2 in x 27 in x 1 1/2 in; image: 37 1/2 in x 26 in
  • Credit Line:
    Gift of the Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, NM

About the Photographer

Lê, An-My

American, b. 1960 Vietnam

Though An-My Lê's petition to be an embedded photographer in Iraq was denied, in 2003 she was granted permission to photograph U.S. military training exercises in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. The series 29 Palms takes its name from the Marine base in southern California's Mojave Desert where Lê photographed American soldiers both rehearsing their own roles and playing the parts of their adversaries. As seen in Stability Operations (Iraqi Police), their practice includes dressing as Iraqi police (complete with home-made armbands) and tagging former military housing with mock anti-American graffiti. Lê works with a large-format camera to capture these images of staged war, in compositions that give equal weight to the landscape in which the theater occurs. Her equipment and working method are reminiscent of those employed by the Civil War photographers, though Lê's pictures address issues of war by looking at the preparation for combat instead of its aftermath. 29 Palms follows Lê's 1999 to 2002 Small Wars series, a study of Vietnam War reenactments in the United States.

An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1960 and came to the United States in 1975 as a refugee. She holds a BAS (1981) and MS (1985) from Stanford University and an MFA from Yale University School of Art (1993). Recent solo exhibitions of her work include 29 Palms at Murray Guy, New York; Small Wars at PS1/MOMA Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York; and Vietnam at Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco. She is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship (1997), and her work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; and Sackler Gallery, The Smithsonian, Washington DC.