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

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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 photographer who has “demonstrated an exemplary commitment to documenting the human condition in the spirit of Smith’s 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 proposal—to show the side of the ongoing wars through Iraqi and Afghan perspectives—that earned him this year’s 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 24—the same age as many of the soldiers he would go on to document—van Agtmael began the project during an embed with American troops 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 everything from 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 conflict—to give face to our ‘enemies’ in the fight. “I’m 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 culture—one 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 2014—another reminder of the human sacrifice and cost of the war. He plans to use photographs, video, audio and text to share the entire range of what he’s 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. “I’ve seen a nasty and primal side of mankind, but it’s been balanced by enough displays of extraordinary humanity to give me hope.”

The $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography is given once per year along with an additional $5000 fellowship to a second recipient. LightBox previously featured the work of 2011 Smith Grant Award winner Krisanne Johnson.

The following photos are from Peter van Agtmael's long-term project Disco Night September 11. Van Agtmael is the recipient of the 2012 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. Afghanistan, 2007. An American Blackhawk helicopter lands at the Ranch House, an isolated U.S. outpost in the Waigul Valley of Nuristan Province, near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan. Several months later the outpost was abandoned after an attack penetrated the outpost and wounded 11 Americans. Several months after that, an American patrol was ambushed near the former outpost, killing six American soldiers. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Afghanistan, 2007. A number of strays hung around Patrol Base California in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, waiting for food and company. Usually the soldiers welcomed them. But, a few weeks earlier, when one of the dogs urinated on a soldier’s cot, he and his buddies allegedly shot the dog to pieces. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Afghanistan, 2009. American Marines of Echo Company play 'cornhole' at Combat Outpost Sharp in Helmand, Afghanistan. It was named after Lance Corporal Seth Sharp, who was killed in the mission that captured the base from the Taliban. The base had plenty of ammunition and water but little else. There was no fresh food, showers or working toilets. At the end of August several reporters embedded at the base. The Marine commander, General Lawrence Nicholson, made sure that the outpost received their first batch of fresh food in two months. The cooks grilled up steak, kielbasa, hot dogs and chicken. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Iraq, 2006. A soldier rides a donkey in Nineveh, Iraq. The wary inhabitants of the isolated village had never seen an American patrol, and asked what country they were from. They served sugary tea to the soldiers but otherwise interacted sparingly. The troops took turns riding the donkey and posed for pictures holding lambs. In the Bible, Nineveh is described as a wicked city. God sent the prophet Jonah to preach there, and its inhabitants repented. God decided to spare the city. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Wisconsin, 2007. Raymond Hubbard with his children, Brady and Riley in Darien, Wis. Since his injuries, Raymond has become an avid collector of Star Wars merchandise. Raymond was injured in Baghdad on July 4, 2006. Shrapnel tore into his body. One fragment entered below his left knee, severing the leg. Another cartwheeled through his neck, cutting through the carotid artery. He was still conscious as he hit the ground. He remembers staring in confusion at the horrified faces of his comrades gathering above him. A medic arrived on the scene moments after the blast. He plunged his hands into Raymond’s neck and clamped the artery hard to stop the hemorrhage. His intervention saved Raymond’s life, but he had already lost 14 pints of blood, and he suffered a massive stroke. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
South Carolina, 2011. A drill sergeant watches recruits performing Combat Life Saving techniques in Ft Jackson, S.C. Several soldiers mimic brutal injuries, screaming and writhing and some faintly smirking. The recruits bandage the injured and get them out of the 'kill zone' while others provide cover. A man in a black billed hat films the action for later review. The instructors shake their heads and grimace but say the exercise will run smoothly with more practice. Indeed, most soldiers injured on the battlefield survive even the most grievous wounds. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
California, 2011. A mock courtroom in Fort Irwin, Calif., for soldiers deploying to Iraq. This training exercise simulated an Iraqi court and an American Army lawyer set forth evidence to prosecute an 'Iraqi' for ties to insurgent groups. After hearing arguments from both sides and reviewing evidence, the Iraqi 'judge' dismissed the case. The exercise was an unnecessary ritual, as American lawyers were never obliged to argue their case in the Iraqi criminal justice system. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Wisconsin, 2007. Raymond Hubbard and his wife Sarah at home. They divorced two years later. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Mississippi, 2010. Rosie Ricketts picks up son Aiden before the viewing of her husband Seth in Corinth, Miss. Sergeant William "Seth" Ricketts, 27, was killed the previous week in Afghanistan by small-arms fire in Badghis province, a remote and previously uncontested area of western Afghanistan seeing an upsurge in violence. On his fifth tour since joining the Army the day after 9/11, he became the 997th U.S. casualty in the war. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
Iraq, 2006. Bullet holes in a wall after a deadly raid in Mosul, Iraq. Alpha Company of 1-17, 172nd Stryker Brigade was on an all-night operation to search 10 houses. One house was filled with American and Iraqi soldiers. Iraqi men and boys in their pajamas were lined up squatting against the wall, their arms tied behind their backs. One American soldier stood away from the others, looking downward and breathing heavily. He shook his head and murmured inaudibly. He’d been the one, another soldier whispered, who pulled the trigger. “Shot the Iraqi’s head to pieces.” Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Afghanistan, 2009. Two Marines talk quietly at COP Sharp before going to bed in Helmand, Afghanistan. The Marine on the left, Corporal Matt Kaiser, had nearly been killed by a buried bomb earlier that day. He was sweeping the road with a minesweeper when the dirt exploded right in front of him. He staggered back saying, "God, I'm still here," and clutching his ears. He laughed and for the rest of the day, couldn't hear much and talked way too loud. It was the second time in just a few weeks he'd nearly been killed by a bomb. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
Iraq, 2006. In the chaotic aftermath of a raid that wounded an American soldier and killed an Iraqi insurgent, this teenager, temporarily deranged by the sudden violence, had leapt at an American soldier in Mosul, Iraq. His face was smashed by a rifle butt, his hands were tied, and he was forced against the wall. His eyes were locked on the Americans, and his expression was frozen in place as the house was searched. An Iraqi interpreter went in to question one of the boys. He whispered back, and the soldiers started digging in the garden. No weapons were found there. Peter van Agtmael—Magnum
The following photographs are from Massimo Berruti's The Dusty Path. He received a $5,000 fellowship to continue his photographic work in Pakistan which examines victims of drone strikes, missing persons and the fight against militancy in Pakistani classrooms. Children wait for a food distribution organized by a local NGO in Pakistan. The government was not able to provide shelter for about two out of the three million people displaced by the military operation in SWAT. Not accepted in the official camps, these people live without any official or governmental assistence, looking for relief from the locals. June 2009. Massimo Berruti—Agence VU
The dead body of a 20-year-old man in Karachi who was assassinated by unknown gunmen. His mother and the rest of the family gathered around his body in the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, to carry him home for the funeral. September 2010. Massimo Berruti—Agence VU
Ijaz Ahmed, a 20-year-old college student in Islamabad. His uncle, a shop keeper, was in a house when it was targeted by a drone. He had two sons and three daughters. The newspaper stated that a secret agency agent declared that five arabs were killed in the attack. June 2011. Massimo Berruti—Agence VU
A funeral for a man killed in a suicide blast in an open market in Peshawar. June 2009.Massimo Berruti—Agence VU
A man standing on a burning pile of garbage in Rawalpindi District, Pakistan. March 2009.Massimo Berruti—Agence VU
Bharat Choudhary was one of seven finalists for the 2012 Eugene Smith Grant for his project The Silence of "Others." Imran Hussain (center) practices classical singing with his students at a park near his home in Middlesex, U.K. Hussain said, "I prefer to teach my students outdoors, in a natural surrounding, because nature’s silence amplifies the melody in our music." Bharat Choudhary
Robert Yager was a 2012 finalist for the Eugene Smith Grant for his project Loaded. Money collected from crack-cocaine sales is counted next to a sleeping baby—roughly $3,000 in cash. The gang member in charge threw down some guns, bullets and rocks of crack-cocaine while the photographer went to retrieve his tripod.Robert Yager
Michael Christopher Brown was a 2012 finalist for the Eugene Smith Grant for his project The State of Ashes. Revolutionary fighters duck artillery fire while retreating from government forces near the town of Bin Jawad, Libya. Michael Christopher Brown
Ami Vitale was a 2012 finalist for the Eugene Smith Grant for her project Watching the Second Hand of a Clock. Indian Border Security Force Officers patrol the picturesque Dal Lake in the summer capital of Srinagar in the Indian held state of Kashmir. Once a tourist hotspot, the only visitors to this magnificent landscape these days are Indian soldiers. Ami Vitale
Justin Maxon was a 2012 finalist for the Eugene Smith Grant for his project When the Spirit Moves. A boxing match is seen on the street between two friends. Boxing is a positive outlet for youth. The neighborhood is referred to as the “Madi Block” because Madison St. runs in the middle. It is one of the more violent areas of Chester. The group of young men depicted, lost their friend, Daniel "Pooh Bear" Simms, less then a year before, when he was shot in the back and killed running away from a Chester Police Officer. Justin Maxon
Jon Lowenstein was a 2012 finalist for the Eugene Smith Grant for his project Shadow Lives USA. Four Guatemalan migrants nap under a giant mango tree on the outskirts of Tenosique, Mexico. For many Central American migrants Tenosique is a resting point before they hop on the freight trains going north to the U.S./Mexico border. These men all made it into the United States. Shortly after this photograph was taken the freight company that ran the trains for more than a century closed the company and abandoned running freight. For months the train didn’t run, but recently a Japanese company once again started running freight from Central America to Mexico. Jon Lowenstein—NOOR
Farzana Wahidy was a 2012 finalist for the Eugene Smith Grant for her project The New Young Generation of Afghan Women. An Afghan woman wears her headscarf before leaving her home in Kabul. Farzana Wahidy—AP

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