Born in Washington DC in 1981, van Agtmael grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and studied history at Yale. His photography education consisted of just one class, but his passion led to a fellowship in China, where he documented the impact of the Three Gorges Dam’s construction.
This picture was taken on van Agtmael’s first trip back to Chile after he’d lived there for six months in 2002. “Those months were deeply formative for me,” he has written of the experience. “I was obsessed with photography but had no real outlet in college. I took the semester off from school and got an internship at a tabloid in Valparaiso. They gave me a loose leash to explore the city and make little features. I started to learn the freedom to be myself. I had my first experience with conflict during a massive rally that turned suddenly violent. I was scared and strangely liberated. And I fell in love. Although this picture is a departure from most of my work, it was in that place I discovered who I was supposed to be.”