Publications, The New York Times Lens Blog

The New York Times Lens Blog Turning Point Series: Peter van Agtmael on Mark Steinmetz

A Large Worldview From Small Details
October 20, 2010, 12:30 pm

Peter van Agtmael, who is represented by Magnum Photos, has spent the last four years documenting America at war. In 2006, his work from Iraq won second place in the general news category from World Press Photo. His book, “2nd Tour, Hope I Don’t Die,” was described on Lens (Nov. 3, 2009). His conversation with Amanda Rivkin has been edited and condensed.

Q. How was this picture taken? And how has it changed the way you work?
A. It was taken on my second trip to the Three Gorges Dam. It hasn’t really changed the way I work. It was just one of many different moments of happiness and satisfaction toward photography I’ve encountered along the way; just a particularly potent one at the time. I wouldn’t be very excited if I took that picture now, but that’s a good thing.

Inspiration: Mark Steinmetz
Image: “Knoxville, Tenn.” Early 1990s.

Q. When did you first come upon this image? How?
A. I came across this picture when it was linked to Steinmetz’s name by Jörg Colberg’s blog, Conscientious. I clicked on the link and looked through his portfolio. It didn’t strike me much at the time, necessarily, but the body of work prompted me to order the book. After looking through the book many times, the picture resonated.

Q. What do you like about this image?
A. I like its mystery; its specificity, yet timelessness; and its elements of universality. I like this picture on its own for how the confluence of seemingly meaningless details somehow make a hypnotic picture. The taut expression, the distracted dog, the patchy grass, the single cloud, the Anywheresville backdrop. I love pictures where easily overlooked mundanities create something magical. I also like this picture for what it represents. Steinmetz’s trilogy of books on America — “South East,” “South Central” and “Greater Atlanta” — is undoubtedly one of the most profound created on the subject of modern America.

Q. How has it influenced your work?
A. It hasn’t influenced the way I shoot. I’ve always enjoyed straight photography. For a while I wished it was in color, but now I can’t imagine it in color.

“Turning Point” is an occasional series featuring images by young photographers. The column was conceived by the 26-year-old photographer Amanda Rivkin.

Previous Turning Point Columns:

Wednesday, Aug. 4
Amanda Rivkin, 26.
Inspired by Dorothea Lange.

Wednesday, Aug. 11
Aga Luczakowska, 29.
Inspired by Stanley Greene.

Wednesday, Aug. 18
Robert Caplin, 27.
Inspired by David Alan Harvey.

Wednesday, Aug. 25
Yana Paskova, 28.
Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Wednesday, Sept. 1
Ayman Oghanna, 25.
Inspired by Alex Webb.

Wednesday, Sept. 8
Newsha Tavakolian, 29.
Inspired by Naser al-Din, the shah of Iran (1848-96).

Wednesday, Sept. 15
Maja Hitij, 26.
Inspired by Kevin Carter.

Wednesday, Sept. 22
Ed Ou, 23.
Inspired by Finbarr O’Reilly.

Wednesday, Sept. 29
Mustafah Abdulaziz, 24.
Inspired by Richard Avedon.

Wednesday, Oct. 6
Justin Maxon, 27.
Inspired by Antoine d’Agata.

Wednesday Oct. 13
Matt Eich, 24.
Inspired by Rich-Joseph Facun.