An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1960. Her family was evacuated from Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975 and became political refugees in the United States. As a child of immigrants and political refugees in the United States, she took up photography by chance. For four years she worked as a staff photographer for the guild of craftsmen the Compagnons du Devoir, based in Paris, and travelled throughout France recording arcane architectural details and documenting the restoration of the churches and cathedrals. In 1991, while studying for an MFA at Yale, she was encouraged to make more autobiographical work. Over the next 10 years, she focused on the theme of war, its myth and memory. That work is compiled as a trilogy (Vietnam, Small Wars, 29 Palms) in Small Wars, a monograph published by Aperture in 2005.
The first series was begun in 1995 when the US renewed relations with Vietnam. An-My Lê travelled back to Vietnam and spent the next three years photographing the country and culture. On the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lê gained access to a military facility in the high desert of California (a landscape very similar to parts of Afghanistan and Iraq) and photographed marines training in preparation for deployment to Iraq.
Vietnam was included in New Photography 13 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997) and Small Wars was exhibited as a special project at MoMA-PS1, New York (2002). Solo exhibitions of Small Wars and 29 Palms travelled to Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2006), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2008), Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2007) and Contemporary Arts Center, Ohio (2007). Trap Rock, a commission, was exhibited at Dia:Beacon in 2006. Her work has been collected by museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum and Hessel Museum of Art in New York as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She has been teaching at Bard College, New York since 1998.