Layers of Detail

Photographer An-My Lê (b. 1960) revels in layers of detail. Quiet subtleties are often the focus of her images, scenes where cultural and personal histories intertwine. In her first New York survey, An-My Lê: Between Two Rivers / Giữa hai con sông / Entre deux rivières explores the artist’s practice over thirty years, across a range of locales and bodies of work. It explores how Lê’s ouevre considers cycles of global history and conflict, contemplating the impact of displacement, politics, and the sensationalising of warfare. Aptly titled, the show opens with photographs that reflect the artist’s experiences as a Vietnamese political refugee, images created between the Mekong and Mississippi river deltas. Lê’s return to her native country is shown in Viêt Nam, whilst New Delta unfolds in the Southern United States. Works such as Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City (1995), emphasise the common human experience, allowing disparate worlds 20 years apart to stand beside each other. These are works that convey both displacement and cultural universality.

Broader topics of global history and conflict emerge in Small Wars and 29 Psalms, where battle reenactments are staged and reimagined into photo scenes. Though war provides a prominent theme for her work, Lê sees herself as a landscape photographer, weaving together multiple views with intentional ambiguity. The artist explains, “A lot of my work comes from dealing with the helplessness I have felt in the face of social and political conflicts. This led me to ask questions which have helped me define my projects.” The result is compelling images that lend to contemplation more than direct answers. While primarily photographs, the showcase also incorporates other mediums to materially touch on power dynamics, such as textiles in the embroidered, erotic works of Somebody Else’s War (Gangbang Girl #26) and the installation đô-mi-nô with oversized Zippo lighter replicas, bearing slogans with poignant effect.

Lê’s work provides great range both topically and stylistically. Events Ashore offers color images of non-combat maritime missions across seven continents, while Fourteen Views is an immersive cyclorama of landscapes and water over three decades of land politics, law, and migration between the US, France, and Vietnam. The Trap Rock installation collects views on industrial scenes to mediate on the relationship between humanity and nature. Finally, photographs from Lê’s ongoing series Silent General provide testament to recent American political divisions and conflicts. Throughout, Lê’s representations suggest an organic and spiritual continuity, eschewing what is linear for what is truly representational.

An-My Lê: Between Two Rivers / Giữa hai giòng sông / Entre deux rivières | Until 9 March 2024

Words: Jennifer Sauer

Image Credits:

1. An-My Lê. High School Students Protesting Gun Violence, Washington Square Park, New York City, from the series Silent General. 2018. Inkjet print, 40 × 56 1/2″ (101.6 × 143.5 cm). © 2022 An-My Lê. Image courtesy of the artist

2. An-My Lê. Manning the Rail, USS Tortuga, Java Sea, from the series Events Ashore, 2010. © 2022 An-My Lê, courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

3. An-My Lê. Manning the Rail, USS Tortuga, Java Sea, from the series Events Ashore, 2010. © 2022 An-My Lê, courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery