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Recognizing the Next Generation: Peter van Agtmael at the Infinity Awards

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Last night, Peter van Agtmael was awarded the prestigious Infinity Award for Young Photographer of the Year by the International Center of Photography. Kira Pollack, Director of Photography at TIME, reflects on the importance of his work as an editor firmly committed to his vision.

Peter’s photographs reveal a deep framework of intellectual and emotional layering that defines his distinctive and original signature. In last night’s video presentation of his work at the Infinity Awards ceremony, Peter stated that “Good work comes from humility, not presumption.” It is this innate perspective that reveals deep meaning and sensitivity in his pictures, whether documenting soldiers at war and at home, the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill or the poignant moments of daily life.

His photographic journey gained focus in 2006, when, at the age of 25, Peter set off on the first of four trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs he produced were eventually published in his first book, 2nd Tour, Hope I Don’t Die. Peter, writing in the prologue, describes the challenges of documenting the conflicted nature of war:

“I wanted to make pictures that reflected my complex and often contradictory experiences, where the line was continuously blurred between perpetrator and victim, between hero and villain.”

Aside from the truly remarkable photographs, the book’s heartbeat resonates in Peter’s writing. It is rare that a photographer can articulate so thoughtfully in words a layer not immediately evident in the pictures — a layer that adds deeper meaning to the work. Readers are presented with a series of pictures and text that underscore the complexities and confusion of war by an author coming of age with the soldiers he is photographing.

Sergeant Russell in VPB California, a small U.S. outpost in the Pech Valley. Kunar Province, Afghanistan, 2007.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum

Although many of his pictures reveal a personal awareness for the human condition, Peter strives for even greater empathy. “I wish these pictures could convey more of what I experienced. They are only my interpretation, and an agonizingly limited one, a shred of all that has been utterly, unfathomably lost,” he states.

Peter is a regular contributor to both TIME and LightBox. Last spring, TIME commissioned Peter to document the journey of a soldier killed in action in Afghanistan as he traveled to his final resting place. The most poignant photograph was made at twilight — hours after the funeral ended, family members returned unexpectedly to the cemetery for a final goodbye. Long after most photographers would have left the family, Peter’s tenacity enabled him to capture a photograph that the boy will not understand until he is much older. The heartbreaking significance of the intimate moment resonates, a private farewell unobtrusively recorded.

More than five years after his first trip to the Middle East, Peter continues to build on a deeply personal and resonant body of work. His artful eye and his sharp mind make him one of the most exciting young photographers working today. He is undoubtedly deserving of such a significant award, whose previous recipients include Lynsey Addario, Ryan McGinley, Lauren Greenfield, and Paul Graham, among others. TIME is proud to be able to support his vision.

Hitchhikers going to New Orleans. Florida, 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Michael Dinwiddie, part of the crew for Treme and a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans, Louisiana, 2009.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Sergeant Russell in VPB California, a small U.S. outpost in the Pech Valley. Kunar Province, Afghanistan, 2007.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
An Egyptian M60 tank takes a new position during an all-night street battle. Cairo, Egypt, 2011.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Independence Day celebrations in Easton, Maryland. 2009.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
The photographer's grandmother at a cousin's wedding. 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Iraqi soldiers walk past a bullet pocked wall in the aftermath of a deadly raid. Mosul, Iraq, 2006.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
U.S. Marines play a game that tries to get beanbags in a hole as a helicopter lands in the background in a cloud of dust. Helmand Province, Iraq, 2008.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
The 158th Annual Allentown Fair. 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Ali Al Salem Air Force Base. Kuwait, 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Rosie Ricketts wakes up her son Aiden before the viewing at the funeral home of her late husband. Staff Sergeant William 'Seth' Ricketts was killed in an insurgent ambush on Feb. 27, 2010 in Bala Murghab province in Western Afghanistan. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
Two boys play with BB guns in rural Louisiana. 2009. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Raymond Hubbard, wounded veteran of the Iraq war, votes in the Wisconsin primaries. Sharon, Wisconsin, 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
A memorial to the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan. Lafayette, California, 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Van and Elsa. New Haven, Connecticut, 2009.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Aiden Ricketts, the son of William 'Seth' Ricketts, poses for a picture at his father's grave after his funeral. Aiden's grandmother takes his picture. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
Raymond Hubbard, an Iraq war amputee, visits Ground Zero. New York, New York, 2010.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
The scene on the National Mall after Barack Obama's inauguration. Washington, DC, 2009.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
A helicopter comes to land on an impromptu helipad built into the side of the mountain at the Aranas Outpost. Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, 2007.Peter van Agtmael—Magnum

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