From escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and austerity riots in Europe to the flooding of Venice and murmurations of starlings in Scotland, TIME presents the best images of the week.
On Wednesday night, Magnum photographer Peter van Agtmael received the $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, joining a legion of photojournalists that includes James Nachtwey, Paolo Pellegrin and Brenda Ann Kenneally. Established in 1978, the W. Eugene Smith Grant is one of the most esteemed in the industry, named after the legendary photographer whose harrowing pictures of World War II gave an unparalleled and poignant view of the human toll of the conflict. In a fitting tribute, the annual grant aims to recognize a photographerwho has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to documenting the human condition in the spirit of Smiths concerned photography and dedicated compassion.
Van Agtmael has done that with his long-term project, Disco Night September 11, which focuses on the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and their consequences within the United States. But it was his existing work along with his proposalto show the side of the ongoing wars through Iraqi and Afghan perspectivesthat earned him this years honor. An additional $5,000 fellowship was awarded to photographer Massimo Berruti for The Dusty Path, a combination of works examining victims of drone strikes, missing persons and the fight against militancy in Pakistani classrooms.
At 24the same age as many of the soldiers he would go on to documentvan Agtmael began the project during an embed with Americantroops engaged in heavy fighting around Mosul, Iraq.As an American of the generation shouldering these wars, I feel a strong responsibility to document their cost,” says the photographer, whose lens captured everythingfrom violent firefights and days-long foot patrols to the rehabilitation of those maimed by war.”Over the course of my lifetime, I intend to keep returning to [these conflicts] to create a comprehensive document.
To that end, van Agtmael, now 31, plans to use his grant to capture the other side of the conflictto give face to our ‘enemies’ in the fight. “Im ready to shift my focus to the other side of the war,” he says. “The Iraqis and Afghans that have been most affected remain depersonalized and shadowy in our collective consciousness. We live in a self-absorbed cultureone largely unburdened by memory.
Van Agtmael plans to return to Iraq and Afghanistan to follow these stories, but will also travel to the Middle East and Europe in hopes of documenting their diaspora. He’s timed the conclusion of his project to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014another reminder of the human sacrifice and cost of the war. Heplans to use photographs, video, audio and text to share the entire range of what hes witnessed over the last seven years; still, van Agtmael maintains it’s a small shred of the whole. “Most stories will remain forever anonymous, and I’m very grateful to the W. Eugene Smith Grant for the opportunity to document the stories that would otherwise go unseen,” he says. Ive seen a nasty and primal side of mankind, but its been balanced by enough displays of extraordinary humanity to give me hope.”
The $30,000W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography is given once per year along with an additional$5000fellowship to a second recipient. blog comment . LightBox previously featured the work of 2011 Smith Grant Award winner Krisanne Johnson.
Since the 1948 creation of separate governments for North and South Korea after World War II, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the North has remained behind an iron curtain, an isolated and secluded state. Our image of the country has been pieced together from pictures taken across the border at the DMZ, photographs provided by government news agencies or unauthorized surreptitious photographs taken by western photographers inside the country—until now.
In January, the Associated Press opened a bureau in Pyongyang for full news coverage within North Korea. AP’s Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder—who first traveled to North Korea as a pool photographer in January 2000 to cover the visit of Madeline Albright—has made a dozen trips to the country over the past 18 months as part of the negotiating team and on reporting trips with Jean H. Lee, AP bureau chief for the Koreas, taking photos each time. Guttenfelder’s approach to showing North Korea to the world has been shaped by his long and prestigious career with the AP.
Guttenfelder has just received two honors from the Overseas Press Club, which announced their annual awards this morning. The Olivier Rebbot Award for best photographic reporting from abroad, in magazines or books, and the Feature Photography Award for best feature photography, published in any medium on an international theme, recognize his recent work from last year’s Tsunami aftermath in Japan and his work inside North Korea.
In 1994, Guttenfelder traveled to the former Zaire to cover the Rwandan refugee crisis as a freelance photographer. “I thought if I ever wanted to do something more serious, this was it,” he says. Guttenfelder stayed in Africa for five years, stringing for the AP, among other outlets, and eventually became an AP staff photographer. He hasn’t lived in the States since. In the ensuing years, he has worked all over the world, from Kosovo to Israel and Iraq to Afghanistan. In 1999 he became AP’s Chief Asia photographer and moved to Japan.
Guttenfelder says when he first worked in Asia he wondered if he had made the right decision. “In the beginning it was really hard, I’d only ever covered conflict and had not done anything else,” he says. One of his first assignments was covering family reunions between North and South Koreans in Seoul. “I wasn’t used to taking photographs in an organized event surrounded by other photographers in such a modern context,” he says. “Now I look back and it was really important work. I only really spoke one language at that point—fighting, refugees and hard news—so it was an important transition for me.”
Fittingly then, when Guttenfelder was in Iraq during the U.S. invasion, he focused on trying to cover the Iraqi side of the war rather than embedding with U.S. troops. “I always thought of myself as the guy on the other side of things,” he says. Then, a year later, when Baghdad fell, Guttenfelder found himself confined to the Palestine Hotel and his role and means of covering the conflict changed again.
“We needed local photographers to cover the streets, someone who could bring back regular pictures of normal people’s lives,” he says. He solicited photographers, but found that they needed extensive training. Although the people Guttenfelder worked with barely knew the fundamentals of photography and worked with primitive equipment—including a camera that used floppy disks—they produced important work. Several of the regional photographers that Guttenfelder and his AP colleagues trained, Khalid Mohammed, Samir Mizban and Karim Kadim, became Pulitzer-Prize winning photographers when AP received the award for breaking news photography in 2005.
Iraq was not the only place Guttenfelder worked training and developing regional photographers; he also did so in Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine. His work in Afghanistan, which he considers the most important of his career, included the recruitment of Farzana Wahidy, the first Afghan woman to work as a news photographer after the fall of the Taliban. Between 2001 to 2010 Guttenfelder made at least 20 trips to Afghanistan, staying for as long as six months to a year at a time. Early on he covered the first election, and projects on the Afghan civilian side of things. But from 2007-2010 Guttenfelder focused on embeds and did multiple military trips including a stint in the Korengal Valley and was part of all of the major U.S. Marine operations into Helmand.
Guttenfelder eventually moved back to Japan in 2006, and he still lives there today. His first news photography in Japan came in March 2011, in the aftermath of the tsunami. Although his work there is highly regarded, he says he feels that his photographs could not capture the magnitude of what he saw.
Still, his experience with being dropped into a new place and quickly capturing the sense of its culture proved invaluable. “There is a known language to disaster pictures; you see the same things, people reaching through chaos, people reaching for food, a lot of emotion. Photographers were trying to find those pictures that existed in other places. It’s just not like that here. That’s just not how it is in Japan,” he says, noting that the emotionally moving picture embedded here, of a woman, on her knees, caressing and singing to her mother’s body, would seem subtle in another place but is a very “loud” picture for Japan.
Although he continues to be based in Japan, Guttenfelder has spent much of the past year in North Korea in preparation for the new AP bureau, which opened in January. Guttenfelder has been part of the negotiating team at meetings that have taken place in Pyongyang and New York over the last eighteen months. “At the first meeting, we left with an agreement that we would hold a photo exhibition and workshop and work towards an AP office in the country,” he says. The joint exhibition, Window on North Korea, on view earlier this month at the 8th Floor Gallery in New York, featured images from both AP and the KCNA archives and a workshop held in North Korea offered an opportunity for KCNA photographers get technical training, for the AP to recruit staff and for the two parties get to know one another.
“We are starting from zero in a system that is so different from anything we’ve done before,” he says. The photo exhibition and workshop were an overture to build trust and collaborate on something, and Guttenfelder has already begun working with a regional photographer, Kim Kwang Hyon. But the most interesting result of the collaboration is the opportunity it has afforded for Guttenfelder to photograph inside North Korea.
Although he is accompanied by a guide wherever he goes and has to request in advance where he wants to go, the daily life photographs that he has taken—often one-off shots made on the way to or from an event—provide a stark contrast to the highly orchestrated government news-agency photos that are more commonly seen out of North Korea.
Despite the normalcy portrayed in these photographs, Guttenfelder says they are actually the most important images because they paint a picture of a place that has been hitherto a mystery. And that can open the window for understanding in both directions. “At the beginning I would take a picture in the street of people standing waiting for the bus. I could tell they didn’t really understand and thought it looked bad, looked poor,” he says. “I would spend a lot of time explaining that people wait for the bus and commute to work everywhere in the world and that someone beyond North Korea could make a connection—that picture breaks down barriers.”
Recently, a select group of photojournalists from western agencies have been allowed into North Korea to cover the celebrations of the birth of the country’s Eternal President Kim II-sung and a missile launch. How long they will be able to stay is in question, but Guttenfelder and AP are committed for the long term. “It’s a really good time to have an office here and to see how things evolve,” he says. “I feel a huge responsibility because this is the first time the country has allowed this much access to one of us.”
When the current incarnation of LightBox launched a year ago today, one of our very first posts featured the work of Eugene Richards, an American photographer who had released a book documenting the impact of the Iraq War on soldiers and their families. It’s been years since the book, War is Personal, hit shelves in September 2010, and even longer since Richards completed the project. In honor of that anniversary, LightBox caught up with Richards to discuss the way that photographs can follow a photographer.With War is Personal, Richards has found that it’s not just the images that draw him back in. “When you do a project like this, people keep occasionally popping back into your life,” he says.
Some of the subjects of the book have fallen out of touch with the photographer, while others he leaves alone, for now at least, feeling that it would be an intrusion to contact them before they want to be contacted. Still, others are still very much involved in the afterlife of the project. Richards knows that one combat medic featured in the project, suicidal at the time, has started law school and is doing well. Another of the subjects, already confined to a wheelchair, has seen his health deteriorate further in the months that have passed. And in one situation, Richards’ involvement with his subjects has gone past keeping tabs. Carlos Arredondo, featured in War is Personal as the father of a deceased soldier and as an antiwar activist, recently lost another son, Brian, to suicide. Because the Arredondo family was in financial trouble, and because the self-published War is Personal sold better than Richards had expected, the photographer and his team—along with the Nation Institute, which had given Richards a fellowship to work on the project—helped defray the cost of Brian’s funeral. The photographs in the gallery above were taken in the days around that event.
“The grief really took over Brian,” Arredondo told Richards. “But it’s not only those people who kill themselves who are suffering, but los familios.”
Richards, who already began two new projects in the past year, says he tries not to revisit stories after he finishes them. “I think all journalists try not to,” he says, “but then they come back to you, again and again and again.”
On one level, they come back as people, like the Arredondo family. On another, the stories come back as a consequence of the photographer’s immersion in the subject. Following an idea for long enough to create a large project about it means that the facts and emotions of its world become so familiar that, Richards says, they start to seep into every aspect of life. Something only tangentially related to a photograph taken a year or two years or twenty years ago can provoke the old perspective. “Suddenly you’re back to where you were at a different time,” says Richards.
Richards hasn’t taken any other additional photographs of the families from War is Personal, but he says he will probably return to the subject of war’s impact. Richards says he can’t turn away from people who are open to his journalistic curiosity and his camera’s presence. After all, there is no shortage of reasons to continue to snap away, no shortage of families affected by the country’s evolving military situation.
“This is the next round of response now that the declaration of war here is over, and perhaps people will come back from Afghanistan,” he predicts. “Concerns are going to grow and grow.”
Eugene Richards is an award-winning American photographer. See more of his work here.
Watch LightBox’s video about War is Personal here.
While photographer Anoek Steketee and writer Eefje Blankevoort traveled through Northern Iraq in 2006, researching a story on the Kurds and their efforts to create a united Kurdistan, they stumbled across a surreal scene amidst the daily reports of kidnappings and sectarian violence—an amusement park called Dream City, located on what was formerly a military base for Saddam Hussein. While outside the gates they may have been at war, inside the Disney-like park the pair saw Arabs and Americans, Christians and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis peacefully rubbing shoulders while strolling around eating ice cream and popcorn, or waiting patiently in line for the bumper cars.
That visit spurred a four-year journey, documented in their series Dream City, through the world of carnies and Ferris wheels from Rwanda to Turkmenistan. The parks’ surreal fairy-tale settings, with perfectly manicured gardens in areas torn by genocide and ethnic clashes, showed the duo that the desire to escape from reality is a universal human need. Which was something America’s great creator of amusement parks, Walt Disney, based his empire on. “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in,” said Disney describing his parks, “I want them to feel they’re in another world.”
TIME‘s Alexander Ho spoke to Steketee about the project:
Did you ever encounter any sort of trouble from park security or local police?
Most of the time, the management of the parks welcomed us. But there were some incidents. In Turkmenistan, the authorities are not so happy with western journalists. We went on a tourist visa to avoid any restrictions in our movements. After a few days working in the park we had to go with the security and hand over the material. Fortunately I was able to avoid giving it to them, but we were forced to stop photographing and were refused further access to the park. In Israel, it took me a few hours to convince the security that I was coming with all the equipment just to photograph amusement parks.
Are there plans to continue the project? Are there shows slated this year for Dream City to be exhibited—perhaps in America?
At the moment we are looking for the possibilities to bring it to the USA, and after that, to Colombia and the other places we visited for the project, like Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, China and Indonesia. Also, in cooperation with FOTODOK, an educational program is being developed which we would like to bring with along with the exhibition.
What projects do you have coming up?
Our next project is, among others, about a popular radio soap opera in Rwanda, which is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story situated in two villages in the countryside.
From the North Korean’s reaction to the death of Kim Jong II and a devastating typhoon in the Philippines to a violent assault by Egyptian soldiers on a woman protester TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.
See last week’s Pictures of the Week.