There is a madness to war, particularly the two current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are filled with contradiction and question. In his first photo book, 2nd Tour, Hope I Don't Die, regular FADER contributor Peter van Agtmael gives us deep insight into the psychological effects on the wars' soldiers. Their faces look out, troubled and traumatized, anxious and contemplative, while their words, in the form of scrawled graffiti, offer up their innermost thoughts and lend themselves to the book's title.
In the prologue, van Agtmael identifies his desire to make pictures that reflect "complex and often contradictory experiences" and observes that "in time the labels that had heretofore defined my preconceptions of the world became meaningless." The images, at once both intimate and bold, contain vast meaning and metaphor, while the details hold the literal evidence of the visceral and contrasting human reactions to the experience of war: a medic tenderly holds the hand of an injured soldier as he is airlifted from battle; rather than pet the dog before him, an anxious and distracted soldier clutches it and digs his nails into its fur; the chaotic, bloody aftermath of an allied raid on an Iraqi home shows a parallel human experience from the other side. Extensive captions reveal further detail, starting with the book's opening image: a mundane sand-banked bunker has an accompanying caption defining it as "Patrol Base California," detailing the amount of times it was attacked, describing its living conditions and confirming that two soldiers stationed there had been dismissed from the army for slipping away to Afghan bunkers to smoke hash.
The photos follow the soldiers beyond the battlegrounds of Afghanistan and Iraq, however, returning home with the wounded to document the wars' hometown aftermath. One section of 2nd Tour focuses on Raymond Hubbard, who lost his leg in a rocket attack in Baghdad. Van Agtmael's photos show his daily life: playing Star Wars with his two sons, sitting on his bed confronting his injury and his medication, at a bar with a stranger aiming a video gun at his prosthesis. The book's end section is dedicated to those who lost their lives, eulogized through pictures van Agtmael took of them in service, at their funerals and of their loved ones. The work builds around his specific subjects, and though van Agtmael strives to be objective, his obvious compassion gives us insight to their very being. 2nd Tour is a visual account of the realities of war on a human scale, the photos providing close connection to a distant and abstract world too often reduced to fading statistics.
2nd Tour, Hope I Don't Die is published by Photolucida and is available from Magnum Photos.