Tag Archives: Peter van Agtmael

Peter van Agtmael Receives the 2012 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography

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.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • LightBox presents an essay written by Tim Hetherington, who was featured in Aperture issue 204, from the new book Photographs Not Taken, one year after the photographer’s death in Libya. The collection, compiled by Will Steacy (one of Aperture’s Green Cart Commissioned photographers), also features essays by Roger Ballen, Ed Kashi, Mary Ellen MarkAlec SothPeter van Agtmael and more. Additionally, PDN features an 8 image retrospective by Hetherington, whose work is now on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York (through May 12, 2012).
  • This week in commentary: LPV Magazine  digests Instagram articles by Om Malik, the New Yorker’s Ian Crouch and New York Magazine’s Paul Ford, finds out, “Facebook Buys Instagram, Some Photographers Sad.” APhotoEditor reads Paul Melcher‘s poignant article on La Lettre de La Photographie alongside Marc Andreessen‘s WSJ piece “Software Will Eat The World,” and explores “how a company with 13 employees and no profits [Instagram] can replace a now bankrupt company [Kodak] that once employed over 120,000 people with annual sales of $10 billion as the ‘manufacturer’ of a device to bring photography to the masses.” In related news, NPPA opens a mobile phone photo contest, calling for entries through Sunday, April 22, 2012, while Magnum Photos has deployed another team to Rochester to document the once-vibrant home of Kodak as part of their Postcards From America series.
  • Poynter investigates the controversy over the Pentagon delaying the LA Times from publishing photographs of US soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan corpses, a story which has since elicited over 2000 comments on the Times’ website.
  • Sophie Calle, featured in Aperture issues 191 and 142, talks to the Guardian about her best shot from the series Voir La Mer, in which she “took 15 people of all ages, from kids to one man in his 80s, to see [the sea] for the first time.” She photographed them from behind so as to not obstruct their initial encounter, and she captured the entire process, including their reactions, on video. Her current exhibition, Historias de Pared (at Museo de Arte Moderno Medellín through June 3, 2012) is reviewed on Fototazo.
  • In honor of Albert Hoffman’s infamous Bicycle Day (April 19), LIFE Magazine shares a number of never-before-published dream-like photographs that were to accompany an original 1966 article titled, “New Experience That Bombards the Senses: LSD Art.”
  • American Suburb X shares journal entries from William Gedney on “Kentucky, Sex and Diane Arbus,” alongside scans of the archival material culled from the Duke University Rare Books and Manuscript Library.  Speaking of rare books, ICP Library profiles some of the innovative and experimental photobooks they found and photographed at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair last week.
  • Time Magazine releases their annual list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World,” alongside a portrait gallery of 24 of the honorees.  Included this year is artist Christian Marclay, of the monumental video installation recently purchased by MoMA, The Clock, and the 2007 Aperture monograph Shuffle, which takes the form of a deck of cards. The Clock will be shown for free this summer from the middle of July to mid-August at Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium. Stake out your places now!

On the Campaign Trail with Newt Gingrich

I arrived in Charlotte, N.C. early on the day of the South Carolina primary and headed straight to Tommy’s Ham House in Greenville. Newt Gingrich was giving an electrifying speech inside as a crowd milled around outside. The previous week I’d covered my first presidential primary in New Hampshire, where many events were disrupted by attention seekers and protesters. Occupy Wall Street supporters came to a Mitt Romney rally and were quickly thrown out by police. At a Ron Paul event, a man with a boot on his head named Vermin Supreme made chicken noises and claimed that if he were elected president, every American would get a pony.

South Carolina was more restrained. There were no active protesters. A lone Ron Paul supporter kept a silent vigil a respectful distance away. Tommy’s Ham House continued to serve breakfast. I didn’t try their famous ham, but their hot cakes were excellent. Gingrich left in a bus with a giant portrait of his face emblazoned on the side. It started pouring and the crowd hid under signs that read, ‘Newt 2012. Rebuilding the America We Love.’

Next, Gingrich stopped at a nearby middle school serving as a voting station. He patiently shook every hand of the assembled crowd, numbering close to a hundred. There were only a few journalists, compared to New Hampshire, where the media often ringed the candidates three or four deep.

One of the last stops of the day was a Gingrich campaign gathering at a Chick-fil-A in Anderson. Like most Gingrich events, it was packed to the brim, with supporters pressing their faces against the restaurant’s windows to get a peek. Sometimes the event locations seemed arbitrary. Why a Chick-fil-A, which was founded in Georgia, instead of a locally-owned business? Another journalist speculated it was because of the widely-promoted Christian values of its founder, Truett Cathy. All the candidates were trying to woo the evangelical base, and nearly everyone at the event was caucasian.

Gingrich would beat Romney to win the South Carolina primary that evening. The victory party that night was restrained, though 1970s and 1980s rock-and-roll classics blared in the packed ballroom. There were a few brief speeches before Gingrich arrived to thank his supporters and attack Barack Obama. Most of the attendees left immediately after the speech was over. I asked where everyone was going and was told the private parties would continue deep into the night.

Peter van Agtmael is a photographer represented by Magnum. His work from Iraq won a World Press Photo award in 2007. More of his work can be seen here.

An Army Apart: Disconnect Between the Public and Military

In September, photographer Peter van Agtmael traveled to South Carolina for “The Other 1%,” which appears in next week’s issue of TIME. Here, he writes about the experience of photographing new recruits at Fort Jackson military base.

At Fort Jackson, South Carolina, hundreds of recruits gather in the pre-dawn darkness in black vinyl shorts and grey t-shirts with the words “ARMY” across the chest. Lit by floodlights, the soldiers line up and wait for their turn to do push ups and sit ups while drill sergeants scream at them if they slow their pace. They are from America, but also Afghanistan, Italy and Sweden. Most of them are teenagers, others in their late twenties and thirties. There are refugees from the economic crisis and others looking for adventure or for a profound change in unfulfilling lives. They aren’t training to be in a combat role—they will go into the Army’s vast support staff, becoming mechanics, cooks, or technicians. If they deploy to the wars, they will likely live on the large support bases and see little of the country in which they are helping to fight a war.

My escort around the base is a soldier with a Combat Infantryman’s badge on his uniform, which he earned in Iraq. I tell him he is lucky he’s gotten a quiet job working at the Public Affairs Office stateside given the frequent deployments, and he is silent for a while. Eventually he tells me that he’d received a traumatic brain injury when his humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. Now he has trouble concentrating and loses his equilibrium when he walks. Over time, his injury will prove fatal. The rest of the day he talks about his wife and children and about how much he misses being in the field.

Later in the day, the soldiers walk through a course designed to teach them to recognize improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the number one killer of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In every instance, they miss the warning signs an IED is buried: an invisible tripwire, a pressure plate. A jumpy young soldier, short, thin and shrill explains in detail the consequences of such mistakes in the field. After each mistake he tells stories from Iraq of fellow soldiers and friends being eviscerated, others decapitated. The recruits listen, their eyes wide, but they still don’t find a single device. One drill sergeant whispers to me that no matter how well the recruits are trained, they’ll miss most of the hidden bombs. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006-2010, the first warning of an IED was usually the explosion. One time it was hidden in a dead animal carcass, another time in a pile of garbage, yet another was buried in a curve in a dirt road.

In another exercise they go into a room and CS gas is pumped in. They put on their gas masks before entering, and as the gas enters, they are instructed to remove them. Moments later they come out weeping and gasping and choking. Snot pours out their nose and a few collapse. The drill sergeants are on top them immediately, squatting, pointing and barking at them to get up and keep moving. Stumbling to their feet, they flap their arms to dissipate the gas.

They do exercises in trust, team building, and endurance, but much of the training is centered around preparing them for the realities of combat. In one exercise, the soldiers enter a warehouse. A dummy pumps fake blood while several soldiers mimic brutal injuries, screaming and writhing and some faintly smirking. The recruits are in confusion, drill sergeants continue to scream, and after a few minutes they dress the injured and get the casualties out of the kill zone while others pull security. A man in a black billed hat films the action. The instructors shake their heads and grimace but say the exercise will run smoothly in a few weeks after much practice. Indeed, most soldiers injured on the battlefield survive even the most grievous wounds.

Many of the men and women will eventually deploy to our wars. Most will live and some may die. But as they toil on, there is no shortage of recruits for the Armed Services.

Peter van Agtmael studied history at Yale and has since photographed throughout Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. His work from Iraq won a World Press Photo award in 2007. More of his work can be seen here.