American Pictures: Who Is Jacob Holdt?

click the image above to watch the video

I must live under a rock because I'd never heard of Jacob Holdt until a few months ago. There are not enough superlatives I can use to praise his work. If you haven't heard of him, he is a self-described Danish vagabond who spent 5 years hitch-hiking across America. He uses photographs and video to fight oppression, racism, and poverty. Spend a few minutes with this powerful video above of Jacob with a leader of the KKK. It was made for Danish tv but most of it is in English.

from his web page:

Vagabond years
Arriving in America with only $40 for a short visit, a young Dane, Jacob Holdt ended up staying over five years, hitchhiking more than 100,000 miles throughout the USA.

He sold blood plasma twice weekly to be able to buy film. He lived in more than 400 homes - from the poorest migrant workers to America's wealthiest families such as the Rockefellers. They not only gave him a hospitality and warmth, but their continuing friendship to this day.

Homeless outside bank

He joined the Indian rebellion in Wounded Knee, followed criminals in the ghettos during muggings, sneaked inside to work in Southern slave camps and infiltrated secret Ku Klux Klan meetings as well as Republican presidential campaign headquarters.

Working with prisoners he saw two of his friends assassinated. By the time he returned to Denmark 12 of his friends had been murdered (in the years since so many of his friends have been murdered that he has completely lost count).

Welfare mother in New Jersey

The (multi-media) show in Europe
Back in Denmark he put together the photos he had taken into a multimedia show named American Pictures. His show instantly became enormously popular and with the help of several black American friends, it was shown in 14 countries in 7 languages between 1976-82.

The profit was used for humanitarian aid in support of the struggle against apartheid by donating schools and farm machinery to the countries and liberation groups bordering South Africa.

The show in America
In 1982 the show moved to America, where Jacob Holdt has since presented it in more than 300 universities, city councils, churches, etc. The show has been updated constantly and one fourth of the pictures are now from the 90'es.

In his latest version from 1997 Holdt worked closely with leading educators, psychologists and workshop counselors throughout America and Europe in order to best incorporate universal themes of oppression.

As a result the show is now the ideal thought-provoking "warm up" for national and international conventions on peace, ethnic conflict, human rights, sociology etc.

addendum: I just found more background on Jacob Holdt at Boing Boing

No comments: