Lê, a Vietnam War refugee, has been preoccupied with armed conflict and the military almost since she began to photograph. She published three projects in a book called Small Wars in 2005: photographs made during a return visit to Vietnam, photographs taken in North Carolina and Virginia of men who reenact battles of the Vietnam War, and photographs of Marine maneuvers conducted near Twentynine Palms, California, in preparation for the war in Iraq—the series to which 29 Palms: Infantry Platoon (Machine Gunners) belongs.
Motivated by personal curiosity and by her experiences in a war that sharply influenced her future, Lê provides, through her pictures, a platform on which the moral and ethical questions of armed conflict can be raised. Her clear, detailed photographs, made with a large-format camera, recall pictures of the American Civil War taken by photographers such as Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, who viewed the landscape as a vital backdrop to the war, intrinsic to their descriptions of what had happened there. By engaging with Lê’s cool, distant views, away from the heat of battle, viewers have the opportunity to contemplate questions about war that are not always raised at the right time. The dramatic exercise she documents, enacted on an indifferent landscape, emphasizes the role people play in determining their fates.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art , p. 266.