Following a remarkably restrained and unexpectedly moving series on Vietnam War re-enactments in Virginia and North Carolina, An-My Lê went to the California desert, where the marines have been attempting to prepare soldiers for conditions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Made over the past two years with a large-format camera, Lê’s new series includes classically expansive Western vistas that recall both Carleton Watkins and John Ford, only here they’re punctuated by jeeps, tanks, and clouds of mortar smoke or they’re shot over the heads of camouflage-clad machine gunners. Alongside these are more intimate views of soldiers on maneuvers and at rest that both mimic and subvert traditional reportage, suggesting a Hollywood-style disconnect between appearance and reality, not unlike what issues from the Pentagon these days. Four of the most disconcerting images involve “Security and Stability Operations” with uniformed troops on patrol around abandoned ranch homes spray-painted with slogans like “Go Home GI,” “Free Saddam,” and “Kill Bush.” It’s Knots Landing masquerading as Sadr City—a SoCal Twilight Zone where the only casualty of war games is the aluminum siding.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 28, 2004