cover image Small Wars

Small Wars

Richard B. Woodward, . . Aperture, $40 (128pp) ISBN 978-1-931788-82-3

A Saigon native who defected to the U.S. as a political refugee in 1975, Lê—currently a professor of photography at Bard College—has spent the past 20 years creating bold, simple "autobiographical still lifes," three series of which are assembled in this gorgeous new volume. Taken in startling black-and-white with a 5x7-view camera, Lê's still lifes combine the perspective and scope of landscape photography with the intimacy of portraits. And her three series—"Viêt Nam," "Small Wars" and "29 Palms"—depict modern Vietnamese villagers, Vietnam War battle reenactors, and soldiers training for Iraq, respectively. Strangely serene, the photos carefully blur the lines between war- and peacetime. In "Untitled, Ho Chi Minh City, 1998," for example, which shows a park full of people and the enormous sky above, viewers are likely to mistake the darting swallows, blurry from speed, for warplanes swooping over people's heads. For her most recent series, "29 Palms," Lê photographed a troop of Iraq- and Afghanistan-bound marines training in California. Juxtaposing soldiers in Nikes with faux anti-U.S.A. graffiti, Lê invites viewers to consider the nature of war, as well as the gap between smaller re-creations and their larger, more violent and destructive sources. In the volume's concluding pages, essayist Richard B. Woodward provides further insight into Lê's work with an astute look at her place in photographic history. Also included is an insightful interview with journalist Hilton Als in which Lê herself reveals her inspirations and techniques. This a beautifully shot and compiled collection that links Lê both to old war-photo masters like Timothy O'Sullivan and to landscape genre's modern-day practitioners. (Oct.)