29 Palms, An-My Lê's photography

An-My Lê 29 Palms

Debriefing, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Embassy Medevac, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Mechanised Assault, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Night Operations III, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Security and Stabilisation Operations, Graffiti. California, United States, 2003-2004.

Combat Support Service Operations. California, United States, 2003-2004.

Colonel Greenwood, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Mortar Impact, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Combat Operations Center Guard, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Infantry Platoon, Alpha Company, California, United States, 2003-2004.

Artist's Statement

In March 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, I felt compelled to go there. Unable to become an embed, I made my way to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

Tucked in the high desert, the training centre’s landscape is not dissimilar from parts of Afghanistan and Iraq. I embarked on the process of documenting the intricate live fire manoeuvres the troops underwent prior to their deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004. Taken with a large-format view camera, my black-and-white photographs have more to do with 19th-century war photography – Roger Fenton’s troops camped in Crimea, Mathew Brady’s dead soldiers on the Civil War battlefield – than with the quick drawing spontaneous images of combat we are bombarded with nowadays. My engagement of the landscape and its scale is an attempt to give perspective to the military endeavour. A cool and distant look at the dramatic exercises far from the heat of the battle allows us to step back and consider the implications and consequences of war. This project implores us to contemplate the larger questions raised by war.

About the photographer


1960, Saigon, Vietnam



Based in

New York, United States

About An-My Lê

An-My Lê and her family were evacuated from Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975 and became political refugees in the United States. As a child of immigrants and political refugees in the United States, she took up photography by chance. For four years she worked as a staff photographer for the guild of craftsmen the Compagnons du Devoir, based in Paris, and travelled throughout France recording arcane architectural details and documenting the restoration of the churches and cathedrals. In 1991, while studying for an MFA at Yale, she was encouraged to make more autobiographical work. Over the next 10 years, she focused on the theme of war, its myth and memory. That work is compiled as a trilogy (Vietnam, Small Wars, 29 Palms) in Small Wars, a monograph published by Aperture in 2005.

The first series was begun in 1995 when the US renewed relations with Vietnam. An-My Lê travelled back to Vietnam and spent the next three years photographing the country and culture. On the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lê gained access to a military facility in the high desert of California (a landscape very similar to parts of Afghanistan and Iraq) and photographed marines training in preparation for deployment to Iraq.

Vietnam was included in New Photography 13 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997) and Small Wars was exhibited as a special project at MoMA-PS1, New York (2002). Solo exhibitions of Small Wars and 29 Palms travelled to Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2006), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2008), Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2007) and Contemporary Arts Center, Ohio (2007). Trap Rock, a commission, was exhibited at Dia:Beacon in 2006. Her work has been collected by museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum and Hessel Museum of Art in New York as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She has been teaching at Bard College, New York since 1998.