The Tight Squeeze Issue

Photographs of America from Acclaimed Magnum Photographer Peter van Agtmael

Van Agtmael's new book focuses on American terrorism, nationalism, and the collateral damage of its seemingly endless wars.

by Peter van Agtmael
06 March 2017, 1:15pm

This story appears in the March issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

I began Buzzing at the Sill, released this month, in 2009, in the midst of covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had spent years embedded in the region with the United States military, documenting the conflict, and when I returned home to the States, I had a lot of troubling questions about my country. I had grown up in the DC suburbs, and although I'd been taught a somewhat nuanced version of history, it was still dominated by American exceptionalism. But how did we, as Americans, arrive at this idea? What visual imprints reflect this history? What forces in society sustain and puncture this idea? How visible and dominant are they?

My previous book, Disco Night Sept 11, looked at the US at war after the attacks on that fateful day, so in a way, this project is a continuation of my past work, but it's also more personal. Here, I include photographs of my family and friends, as well as portraits of Lyniece Nelson, the mother of a young transgender woman brutally murdered, and her relatives. There are also roadside attractions, references to torture, beautiful landscapes, and melancholic figures. For me, all these diverse images are intertwined. Thematically, I'm interested in the intersection of race, imperialism, and social hierarchies. I've returned many times, for instance, to the outskirts of the Kentucky Derby, an unexpected confluence of many of my interests and obsessions.

I'm far from finished. I'm deep into another book on America, which focuses on terrorism, nationalism, and the collateral damage of these seemingly endless wars.

I'm more than ten years into this work, but it still feels like the beginning of the road.