By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 03, 2021 at 10:01 AM

“An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain,” a new photography exhibition, opens Friday, Dec. 3 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and it is the first comprehensive show of work by Vietnamese-born American photographer An-My Lê.

The exhibition, in the Baker/Rowland Galleries, was organized by Carnegie Museum of Art Curator of Photography Dan Leers and coordinated here by MAM Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts Lisa Sutcliffe.

“On Contested Terrain” – which includes works from a number of the photographer’s series – runs through March 27, 2022.

An-My Lê was born in Saigon in 1960 during the Vietnam War and most, though not all, of the photographs explore conflict and war.

Here you can see her process:

For one series, she embedded with military training in the American Southwest for the Iraq War. For another, she participated in reenactments of the Vietnam War.

The only color series is an ongoing one – called “Silent General” –  that also explores military and conflict imagery, and I found the geometry of her compositions especially striking here.


The show opens with images from a series she shot across a number of years, beginning in 1994, in Vietnam. Here there are portraits of children and farmers on their land.

One image in this set shows a group of people viewing an eclipse, harkening back to a similar 19th century shot by Eugene Atget.


Another series finds Lê inspired by classic 19th century French paintings like Edoard Manet’s “The Luncheon on The Grass” and Jean-François Millet’s 1857 “The Gleaners.”

“Drawing on her experience as both a refugee of the Vietnam War and an American citizen, An-My Lê explores conflict from a unique perspective,” said Sutcliffe.


“Her sweeping photographs provide an expansive point of view, placing the landscape, the people and their actions within the broader perspective of history, and asking difficult questions about the consequences of war.”

The photographer says her memories serve less as inspiration than as a “series of curiosities” that provide a launchpad for her work.


“I hear people talk about memory as inspiration for their work, especially in photography. The problem I have with memory being raw material is similar to issues people have with photography itself,” she said.

“For me, the literal is less interesting than the formal. I realize that my work generates questions about my story. Memory is only valuable to my process because it has provided me with a series of curiosities.”


Here’s another video in which An-My Lê – who has received  the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship – talks about her “Small Wars” series, which is included in the MAM show.

The museum will host a series of events related to the exhibition. You can find details on MAM events here.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.