The War Photography of Peter van Agtmael: The B&H Photography Podcast


Conflict photography of the past twenty years is a subject we have discussed in previous episodes with photographers, psychologists, and scholars, but our very welcomed guest, photographer Peter van Agtmael, adds his well-articulated thoughts on the subject, including his own motivations and challenges while covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the ramifications of those wars here in the United States and elsewhere. On this episode of the B&H Photography Podcast, we reflect on the mindset of a young man wanting to bear witness to history and the evolution of his thoughts after many assignments and embeds. We also learn about aspects of his work, from the intra-personal to the technical, and how these have also changed over the course of an almost two-decade career.

The work of van Agtmael has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker, and he is a Guggenheim Fellow, a winner of multiple World Press Awards, and a member of the Magnum Agency. He has also authored several books of his work, which take a deeper narrative and conceptual dive into his images from this same general body of work. van Agtmael is not alone in this endeavor, but it is this balance, this ability to conceptualize his work within the news sphere and in the nuanced context of a personal photo book that is quite interesting. Quiet images from ten years ago have a tragic power today.

His most recent book, Sorry for the War, a subtle and powerful exploration of the disconnect between the United States home front and the actual wars themselves, is the main topic during the second half of the show, and we discuss the differences between this and his other books. We talk about the editing process, collaboration, and the formal decisions that go into making a book that is meant to be a historical as well as a personal statement.

We also take a minute to talk about gear choices, the aesthetics of technical limits, and we hear about stories he’s covered as disparate as earthquakes in Haiti, Hollywood award tours, and recent politics and protest. Throughout, van Agtmael offers insightful answers to the very complicated questions posed by and of contemporary photojournalism. Please join us, and also check out his work with The Arab Documentary Photography Program.

Guest: Peter van Agtmael

Photograph © Peter van Agtmael

From “Disco Night Sept 11” Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
From “Disco Night Sept 11” Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
From “Sorry for the War” Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
From “Sorry for the War” Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
From “Sorry for the War” Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
From “Sorry for the War” Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
Georgia de la Garza, a local environmental activist, is pictured from inside an abandoned house near the Eagle River Coal Mines-Franks LLC in Harrisburg, Illinois, USA 2017. Photograph © Peter van Agtmael
Protestors objecting to the certification of Joe Biden by Congress storm the Capitol. Washington DC, USA, 2020. © Peter van Agtmael

Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Senior Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner

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