Along with Lynn Stern and Boris Mikhailov, add war photojournalist Peter van Aegtmal to the list of photographers whose art world embrace puzzles me. On the heels of being named Concientious photographer of the year, van Aegtmal has just been named a Critical Mass book award winner. With all the commotion I figured it was worth spending a while on his website. Clearly he is a very fine photographer. He's a master of framing and color, and he captures fleeting moments as well as static ones. But pouring over his war photos, they seem like...well, like a lot of war photography. War sucks, the photos show it, the end. Show me something I don't know. It's very well done, but for me it doesn't really rise above what it is depicting.
I can't help thinking part of van Aegtmal's success is due to the political climate. The debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan have dragged down the morale of the nation, yet we generally feel powerless to put a stop to them. Praising van Aegtmal is a way of keeping these wars in the spotlight, and to cast a soft vote against their continuation. If he had made the exact same photos in, say, Colombia, would he receive similar recognition? It's similar to what happens with the Nobel Peace prize, where the award is as much a political tool as a token of appreciation. Maybe I'm completely off base but that's my take.