Photos of the Sanctuary Home Provides

Peter van Agtmael took these heartfelt photos years into a project that had taken him to Iraq and Afghanistan.

|
Jul 15 2015, 4:00am



Bethesda, Maryland, 2014. My reflection in the living-room window.

This article appears in The Photo Issue 2015

Photos by Peter van Agtmael / Magnum Photos

I started photographing my family in earnest several years into a project about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At its best, photography for me is a sharply distilled manifestation of the weight of experience and the purest reflection of the subconscious. But in war, photography had become somewhat oppressive, tainted as it was by death and despair. I had lost sight of the satisfaction of discovering beauty in the mundane. I started photographing my family and my childhood home in Maryland. At first it was a record of my grandparents. They were aging, and I'd become acutely aware of their mortality and my own. When my niece was born the family started anew. Through her I began to more fully appreciate the love I'd been given and the sanctuary that home has always represented.

Bethesda, 2010. Some of the remaining pieces of my model-soldier collection, which is still on a shelf in my room. When I was a kid, I was an eager collector and builder of model soldiers, mostly from World War II.

Bethesda, 2013. My mom, Emily, in a World War II army helmet that I’d had as a kid for a Halloween costume.

Lighthouse Point, Florida, 2004. My mom with my grandma, Dorothy.

Silver Spring, Maryland, 2011. A dropped burger on the street at my grandparents’ retirement community, several days after my grandma’s death.

Lighthouse Point, 2004. My grandparents, Ralph and Dorothy Kaufman, or “Patcha” and “Manya.” My grandma didn’t really like having her picture taken, but when I would insist, she would usually just put on a show of avoiding my camera.

Lighthouse Point, 2004. My grandparents

Bethesda, 2015. My sister, Jenny, my niece, Victoria, and a bubble gun.

Easton, Maryland, 2013. My aunt Jill holding Stella, her daughter’s dog.

Bethesda, 2014. My dad, Antoine, at home

Bethesda, 2013. My dad covering the master bedroom in plastic before a renovation.

Lenox, Massachusetts, 2014. My niece and mom in bed on a family vacation.

Bethesda, 2014. My niece and dad in the backyard of my parents’ home after a light snow.

Bethesda, 2011. My dad buckling in my grandfather after my grandma’s funeral—I was getting into the driver’s seat. I stayed with my grandfather for the week after her death.

Lenox, 2014. My niece taking a nap during a family vacation in the Berkshires.

Bethesda, 2009. My mom’s reflection in the window shortly after I returned from a trip to Afghanistan.

Bethesda, 2014. My dad on a family walk after Christmas.

Stories