Thom Atkinson has been very busy lately. In the last year he has created the immaculately arranged Soldiers Inventory series documenting British Soldier's equipment from different wars, shot a moving series of portraits to commemorate holocaust survivors for the Memory Maker Project and set up a photobook publishing imprint company called Hwaet. He also shot a fantastic series called Museums showing pieces from both the Wellcome Trust and the National History Museum and is working on his first book, Missing Buildings, focusing on the legacy of The Blitz in London.
Somehow he squeezed in some commerical work too for the likes of Esso, Parker Pen, VW, Kids Company, Cancer Research and editorial for The FT magazine, The Telegraph and the Guardian Weekend Magazine. I am amazed he managed to take the time to write this week's recommends column. Luckily for us he did. And in doing so introduces us to the truly wonderful work of An My Lê. Below he talks about An My Lê's Viet Nam work, the vietnamese landscape, memory and myth.
An My Lê's Viêt Nam work has been on my bookshelf for a few years, but I keep coming back to it. She was born in Vietnam but was displaced by the war as a child and moved to live in America. Her pictures of the Vietnamese landscape are all about memory and myth. Returning to her homeland to make pictures she sees a mythologised version of Vietnam, implanted into her mind by foggy childhood memories, American news reels and Hollywood movies. She channels that mythology into photographs full of suggestion and connotation - pictures which jump between the present and the past, between fact and fiction. The landscapes are as psychological as they are physical.
I like this work because it's strange and open ended. It dares to step beyond photographic fact and into myth. Sometimes I feel this word, myth, gets misused. A myth isn’t a lie, rather it describes the stories we tell to understand, and come to terms with, the past. The writer and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, describes mythology as a group dream. To me, this is what An My Lê’s work is about. It reminds me of something written by the American writer and veteran of the Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien: Story-truth is truer sometimes than happening truth.