PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Disco Night Sept 11


Book Review Disco Night Sept 11 By Peter van Agtmael Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson War reporting these days is a little like kicking at your apartment wall: you only see one side of it and if, say, the other side of the wall happens to house someone’s China set, well, you don’t see the devastation. We read about war, get statistics on death-tolls and PTSD, but it’s all bland words and dry charts; without a visual orientation (or audible!) it is hard for the average person to imagine the gravity of war.

Disco Night Sept 11. By Peter van Agtmael.
Red Hood Editions, 2014.
 
Disco Night Sept 11
Christopher J. Johnson

Disco Night Sept 11
By Peter van Agtmael
Red Hook Editions, 2014. 279 pp., 188 color illustrations, 8½x10½".


War reporting these days is a little like kicking at your apartment wall: you only see one side of it and if, say, the other side of the wall happens to house someone’s China set, well, you don’t see the devastation. We read about war, get statistics on death-tolls and PTSD, but it’s all bland words and dry charts; without a visual orientation (or audible!) it is hard for the average person to imagine the gravity of war. Following the Vietnam War American media outlets dropped their circulation of violent images; no longer did we encounter the visage of the dead soldier or burnt child in the newspapers rolled up at the end of our driveways or spread over cafe tables. Instead our media today will show blasé images of American soldiers in their sunglasses and vehicles, sometimes even poised to fire their guns, but we don’t see their guts anymore. Not ever.

Disco Night Sept 11. By Peter van AgtmaelRed Hood Editions, 2014.

If you’ve been following the news only since it arrived on the internet you might not know that images circulated by the media used to be a lot more unsettling. However, if you were a student of history like Peter van Agtmael you would notice with clarity this fundamental shift in our images of current affairs. It is almost as though the gravity, the impact, the brute reality of violence (and war especially) has been sucked out of our current affairs. van Agtmael’s Disco Night Sept 11 attempts to give us our gravity back and remove the abstractness from our understanding of current events by providing us with such a corpus of images as to essentially fill the gap of more brutal, more realistic media images over the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This book is an accomplishment to stand in awe of and a work of art to inspire, though the inspiration may be fear, sadness, or even anger the discovery of this other, more honest dimension of the realities of war on soldiers, on the native citizens where war is waged, and on the families those soldiers return to.

Disco Night Sept 11. By Peter van AgtmaelRed Hood Editions, 2014.

But, I’ve been moving up the dial here, then skipping back again without saying just what the book contains; why, because, as I’ve been saying all along, the book contains context. 274 pages of beautiful and devastating context.

Soldiers storm a private residence shuffling through a families belongings while a young boy stares at his feet shy and terrified; soldiers fake ghastly injury for a training routine; mothers cry; afghan soldiers peer out of their quarters; families are captured in their excitement as loved ones (soldiers) return home; the graveyards fill and soldiers die. Disco Night Sept 11 doesn’t fail in depth.

Disco Night Sept 11. By Peter van AgtmaelRed Hood Editions, 2014.

Text accompanies van Agtmael’s photography to noticeable effect, “American soldiers on a foot patrol noticed that two young men were eying them and fidgeting. Anticipating violence, they stormed their house.” Photographed notes and graffiti written by American soldiers also fill in the story. Text written on a wall reads: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” But it is the images that make this book.

Disco Night Sept 11. By Peter van AgtmaelRed Hood Editions, 2014.

The images are the most real and the most representative of what we’ve needed to see: the victims, the wounded men, the crying families, and the rivers of coffins. Through van Agtmael’s work we are able to follow many soldiers from the battlefield to their homes, or to their deaths and the ensuing toll on their families. Foldout panels in the book act like wiki links offering portals into a deeper knowledge of training and recruits, the atmosphere of a patrol, the life of a soldier and the effect of his return home on friends and family. Disco Night Sept 11 could serve as a textbook for the lunar strangeness of PTSD and its effects not only upon the soldier himself, but his community and, therefore, our community — everybody.

Disco Night Sept 11. By Peter van AgtmaelRed Hood Editions, 2014.

This may not be a coffee table book, but it is certainly a book that everyone should see. It will make you feel, well, so many things — deep and alarming and all sad — but it will illuminate you, too. We cannot afford as we have done for so long to remove ourselves from the violence that war inflicts; upon a land, a people, an army, a city, a nation, a family, or an individual and their mind. Disco Night Sept 11 paints this fact with terrible beauty. It serves as documentary, but also as severe and lasting history and, as we have heard, knowing is half the battle.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON

Purchase Book

CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is originally from Madison Wisconsin. He came to Santa Fe in 2002 and graduated from the College of Santa Fe majoring in English with an emphasis in poetry. He is a freelance writer and reporter.

No comments:

Post a Comment