Shot in coastal waters and regions from Iraq to Antarctica, An-My Lê’s latest series of photographs examine intersecting themes of scientific exploration, military power, environmental crises, fantasies of empire and the vast ungovernable oceans that connect nations and continents. In a continuing practice that explores photography’s ability to describe natural forces and geography as backdrops against which human ambitions are weighed and scrutinized, Lê turns toward the seascape as both a historical tradition in visual art and as the site of a wide range of contemporary issues and anxieties.
“Landscape is truth” muses a highly trained ex-soldier in Don Delillo’s “Running Dog” (1978). Lê’s various terrains are rife with physical obstacles and incontrovertible political realities. The photographs offer a complication of truths, both human and epic in scale: a soldier stands watch over oil platforms off the coast of Iraq scanning the North Arabian sea for potential threats. In Antarctica, the only continent never to have hosted a war, a group of recently deposited scientists look on as Oden, a Norwegian icebreaker makes a slow departure and in Australia an exhausted unit of U.S. Marines pauses to witness dusk in an emerald forest. While echoing traditions ranging from 19th century romantic painting to contemporary social landscape photography, Lê makes dynamic speculations on our capacity to occupy spaces as we attempt to control the potentially uncontrollable while pondering the infinite.
Produced between 2005 and 2008, the photographs in “Events Ashore” were made during visits to Australia, Japan, Antarctica, Kuwait, Iraq and California.