Lê is curious, too, about how history shapes the attitudes and actions of people today. Whether photographing men who reenacted Vietnam War skirmishes in the forests of North Carolina and Virginia (“Small Wars,” 1999–2002); American military personnel conducting training exercises in Southern California (“29 Palms,” 2003–04); or service members at work in places as far afield as Indonesia, Ghana, and the North Arabian Gulf (“Events Ashore,” 2005–14), Lê has enlarged our understanding of the motivations and messages structuring her subjects’ lives.
Situational awareness entails not only determining the meaning of a given scene, but also making a prediction about how it will change. One way to understand the progression of Lê’s work is to note her increasing confidence in making sense of environments with uncertain futures. She has moved from smaller, closed social groups into the open and dizzying milieu of contemporary American politics for her newest project, “Silent General” (2015–), which includes images of immigration and border control agents, agricultural workers, environmental disasters, and sites of removed Civil War monuments. This is a felicitous moment to survey her work because the excitement for Lê—and for us, her viewers—is that it’s impossible to know where these subjects will take her. The news she brings back will reward close looking.