Sunday, October 10, 2010

An-My Le at Murray Guy

It is hard, at 16, when your favorite hard-core band takes on a new musical direction, grows out their hair and starts wearing turtlenecks. Or when you are 24 and your favorite indie rock band decides to take time off so each member can pursue solo instrumental albums. It’s hard to hear the new direction as anything but a lesser version of what you loved. In a couple of years, you might love the new material, but at the time it can be hard to understand how anyone could think the new stuff isn’t subpar.

For the last decade, An-My Le has easily been my favorite photographer. Her masterful black and white photographs of Vietnam War re-enactments and the staging of the Iraq war are stunningly beautiful, intelligent and should have put an end to the great 90’s debate over setup versus straight photography.

So it isn’t surprising that for her work on wartime soldiers she has turned to color photography to find a new artistic challenge. Unfortunately, her use of color feels uncertain, and her once masterful treatment of light is completely absent in the work. Also missing is the skilled combination of compelling subject matter with art world concerns about the nature of photography. What is left feels too reserved, akin to a marriage between 1970’s large format art photography and 1960’s documentary work.

Despite the shortcomings for more hardened fans, I think those unfamiliar with the previous oeuvre might find a lot to enjoy. Le presents a military in stark contrast to how it appears in contemporary art or for that matter in popular culture. The active wartime military of An-My Le’s pictures are not tools for conquest or stoic heroes but ordinary and knowable individuals who appear to be working at a large over seas not-for-profit organization.

Murray Guy (453 W 17th St 2nd Fl. Btw. 9th & 10th Aves.) through Oct. 30th


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