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The prodigal son: Peter van Agtmael’s return to America – in pictures

  • For years, photographer Peter van Agtmael documented the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – this subsequent series is of the America he found when he returned. He describes a selection of the images here; a book of the entire series, Buzzing at the Sill, is published by Kehrer
  • ‘At the annual Iowa GOP Ronald Reagan dinner, Sarah Palin gave the keynote speech which was seen as testing the waters for a possible presidential run,’ van Agtmael says. ‘She savaged Obama, both for his pacifism (withdrawing American troops from Iraq) and his militarism (ordering the surge in Afghanistan). She praised the armed forces while attacking the press (“people who are out there for the right of journalists to lie”)’
  • ‘The remnants of a Choctaw allotment after their forced expulsion to Oklahoma. The Choctaw tribe initially had vast territories in the southeast United States. By the early 1800s, the American government had begun a systematic, legislated removal of the natives from their land. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress and led to the exodus of tens of thousands of Native Americans. The majority of the Choctaw were forced to march 800km to modern Oklahoma, watched over by white militias’
  • ‘A second line parade. A local African American tradition where brass bands, known as the first line, march in the streets and are joined by members of the public, called the second liners. The second line parades came about after the civil war because insurance companies wouldn’t cover ex-slaves. So African Americans formed benevolent societies and clubs that helped members defray health costs. The dues included a band for funerals and a public parade every year. Over time, their popularity evolved, and now there are parades almost every Sunday in New Orleans’
  • ‘Iraqi refugees in a low-income housing community in Portland. The area is home to several thousand Iraqi refugees. One of the main community organisers is Dr Baher Butti, who fled Baghdad in 2006 after his community activism made him the target of local militias. A psychiatrist, activist, and writer, Butti spends much of his free time helping the recent immigrants adapt to life in America. Many of them don’t speak much English and don’t understand their rights within the web of bureaucracy’
  • ‘The KKK had boasted that dozens from their Klan chapter would attend the rally and cross burning, but there were only a few people when we showed up. After a few vague excuses, the six or seven Klan members changed into their robes. One of the leaders started his speech. He shouted that there were Isis training camps being created by the United Nations with Fema, whose fighters would then take Americans’ guns away. After finishing, the hoarse-voiced Klan member burned the UN flag and stomped on it, to the tepid cheers from the small crowd’
  • This image was taken on a New Yorker assignment, following the stories of police informants – it depicts the family of Shelly ‘Treasure’ Hillard, the daughter of Lyniece Hillard, who was murdered. ‘The family was still in shock over Treasure’s death. One of her sisters said, “I don’t know if Treasure is asleep, or up. Because her pictures … every time I move  around … they look like they are following me. She woke mama up to tell her she was leaving, she left … and that’s it”’