Peter van Agtmael is an American photographer
Episode 189:Peter van Agtmael is an American photographer and member of Magnum.
It is hard to express the feeling that some images and books give when you first encounter them. Most books are great and leave you pondering creativity and the freedom and encouragement it takes to produce work from a unique perspective. We often give a lot of credence to subjectivity and place a heavy emphasis on imagination.
In Peter’s work, all of these qualities align coupled with an incredible point of view from the frontlines of war. Though Peter has not been an active war correspondent for some time, his books and various bodies of work have dealt with the American wars in the Middle East and their effect on both America and the soldiers returning home from what seems like a never-ending occupation abroad launched directly after 9/11. His work deals with the perception of war, but also the changing social landscape of America.
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have only really dived into Peter’s work over the course of putting this episode together. There is no particular reason for that other than our paths had not crossed until recently. I was put in connection with Peter through his partner Ben Brody at Mass Books, whose episode will also air very shortly on Nearest Truth. I had seen the cover for Peter’s book Sorry For the War and was intrigued.
When I started to spend time with the book from afar, I was floored by an image of a young man posing with another man who appeared to have had severe burns covering his body. I remember being quite taken aback at first, but as I read more, the complications of war and the way in which Peter photographed a number of his friends and people in his frames began to take on something much more natural and the initial shock that I felt subsided into wanting to know more about the work, but also the people involved. I feel justified in using Bobby’s image for the episode thumbnail and want to acknowledge a nod of appreciation to both him and his family.
In the episode, Peter and I dive into the conversation regarding the nature of Sorry for the War, but also his other bodies of work such as 2020. We speak widely about his experiences as a war photographer as well as what it is like to adjust back to making work like 2020, which feels like a brilliant pulse-taking of the American moment. It was a deep dive and Peter’s eloquent delivery kept the conversation moving. I am still quite in awe of the experience. Please tune in! It is much better to hear Peter speak about it all rather than “hear” myself re-hash the experience. Thank you to Ben and Peter both. One last note of advice-pick up the books Mass is publishing sooner rather than later.