Shot in coastal waters and regions ranging from Iraq to Antarctica, An-My Lê’s latest series of photographs takes up the military’s movement over the world’s vast, ungovernable oceans as a site to visualize forces that today often seem beyond representation: changing global circulations of people, resources, power, and capital. In a continuing practice that explores photography’s ability to describe natural forces and geography as backdrops for human ambitions, Lê’s photographs represent an unlikely variety of experience: unsung humanitarian missions to Ghana and Senegal, jungle warfare training with Indonesian Marines in Java, a soldier standing watch over oil platforms off the coast of Iraq, a Norwegian icebreaker making a slow departure from Antartica, one aircraft carrier’s deployment in support of American forces in Afghanistan, and another aircraft carrier’s eventless days at sea and dramatic passage through the Suez Canal. The scale of Lê’s photographs ranges from expansive to intimate, as they describe competing influences and spaces, showing massive war machines dwarfed by vast occupied landscapes, and soldiers whose glaring individuality evokes an intersection of strength and vulnerability specific to militarized zones. Yet their politics is “small,” built out of many specific encounters: for instance between an American sailor waiting with a Vietnamese Buddhist nun in the processing area of a naval hospital ship, or a Ghanaian airman performing life saving combat techniques on an American corporal. Lê’s ongoing practice betrays a deep debt to the history of landscape and portrait photography—in particular nineteenth century photographers such as Roger Fenton, Timothy O’Sullivan or Gustave Le Gray, who were concerned as much with the richness of the photograph as a visual or topographic document as they were with any supposedly independent aesthetic value. Lê opens up different possibilities for these historical practices today, as they circulate amidst images proliferating from Hollywood films to photojournalism to candid snapshots and “official” military portraits.
Matthew BuckinghamFrancis CapeAlejandro CesarcoMoyra DaveyPatricia EsquiviasKota EzawaNoriko FurunishiMatthew HiggsAn-My LêZoe LeonardAnn LislegaardNashashibi/SkaerBarbara ProbstLucy SkaerBeat StreuliSergei Tcherepninother