April 24, 2003 11:50 PM   Subscribe
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.
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. See his work !
posted by bureaustyle (22 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
my favorite picture
posted by bureaustyle at 11:58 PM on April 24, 2003

Damn, I thought that was a painting at first... An amazing photo.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:10 AM on April 25, 2003

Some very poignant pictures, but I can't agree with him about what he says about the KKK. I don't believe that poverty is a valid excuse to hate people, whether you are black, white, or of any other racial background.
posted by dazed_one at 12:12 AM on April 25, 2003

Well, it's kind of hard to deny that poverty causes 'hate' of one form or another, and I think his point is that many or even most followers of the Klan are people who have for whatever reason, channelled that hate in a reprehensible way. Joining the Klan is itself a violent act against our society, because our society so openly hates the Klan both in its racist nature and as a symbol of our soiled past. I can understand joining the Klan as an act of assertion in the face of poverty, an act of rebellion against an oppressive culture. Unfortunately, this particular act comes with some very nasty baggage.

I don't think he's saying that poverty is an excuse for hate. I think he's saying that poverty causes hatred for society just as surely as being a prisoner causes hatred for the warden. If you are trapped, then you'll channel that hatred in any way you can, be it prison riots or beating up on some other group grasping for the same scraps you are...

At some point early in American history, it was decided that the blacks would be slaves and the poor whites would be, well, serfs, though we never call them that. The distinction in these classifications created two very clearly dilineated groups who, instead of thinking of themselves as one big group of impovershed Americans, instead became two groups hunting the same barren wasteland, and therefore competition. I think that similar trends arose among impovershed ethnic immigrant groups, such as Italian and Irish workers.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:12 AM on April 25, 2003

posted by Dunvegan at 2:28 AM on April 25, 2003

Has anybody seen one of his presentations?
posted by sudama at 4:50 AM on April 25, 2003

I really enjoyed this - thanks!
posted by plep at 5:09 AM on April 25, 2003

infiltrated secret Ku Klux Klan meetings as well as Republican presidential campaign headquarters.

There's a difference?
posted by nofundy at 5:18 AM on April 25, 2003

I met Jacob Holdt at a presentation he made at Boston University about five years ago. The guy is simply incredible. I attribute a lot of my wanderlust and desire for foreign travel to him. The most important thing I got from his presentation was how important it was to view places you've never been with not only an open mind, but an open heart.

If I recall correctly, he spent time with share croppers in Florida, and having used to live there, I was shocked to find people living in such poverty -- even slavery, really. Then a few months later he was sleeping with some rich heiress in Texas, and his pictures reveal a richness of wealth but a poverty of compassion -- quite a juxtaposition. He later spent time living with a crack addict in the Bronx, and you could see the similarities between the living conditions in New York and the share crop families in poorer rural areas.

What I also remember him saying was something to the effect of, "I was robbed a few times when staying at these places, but most people were very nice. But do not be too quick to judge the crack addicts, because if you were as destitute as they are, you'd probably take up drugs, too." He said it much better, of course. But I've never been able to look at a homeless person again in the same way. I used to wonder when I gave them change, "I wonder if they're just going to waste it on alcohol." Now I realize it doesn't matter. If they are, well shit, so would I, and who am I to judge?

Great link, bureaustyle.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:36 AM on April 25, 2003

posted by techgnollogic at 6:41 AM on April 25, 2003

Some very gripping stories here. I'll be returning to read more. Thanks for the link.
posted by Tubes at 6:44 AM on April 25, 2003

[this is good] - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 6:57 AM on April 25, 2003

Wow -- excellent find, bureaustyle!
posted by me3dia at 8:59 AM on April 25, 2003

Wow...that's some genealogy he's got there.
posted by oissubke at 9:05 AM on April 25, 2003

I think this is one of the best links I've ever seen posted on Metafilter. This man has some incredible insights into the human condition, and I feel better-equipped to deal with people with racist attitudes now that I see the mental processes behind them. Thanks, bureaustyle.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:27 AM on April 25, 2003

This is riveting. Thank you so much.
posted by blissbat at 11:29 AM on April 25, 2003

Wow. Thanks, bureaustyle, for posting this incredible site. So, who's going to help him scan the rest of his 3000+ pictures? Any volunteers?
posted by wendell at 12:00 PM on April 25, 2003

Wow, great photos, great stories. The rural south photos really conjured up a lot of memories for me, intangible things that you gloss over with time and forget in favor of more positive memories. I can almost smell the must in those shacks, hear the old ladies' voices, things I haven't thought about in years. Thanks for the post.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:15 PM on April 25, 2003

infiltrated secret Ku Klux Klan meetings as well as Republican presidential campaign headquarters.

There's a difference?

Senator Byrd must think so.
posted by Beholder at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2003

[this is good]
posted by jcruelty at 1:03 PM on April 25, 2003

Reminds me of another Danish-born documentarian, Jacob Riis. I had the pleasure of seeing Holdt present his work at Northwestern University in the early 90's. It was quite moving.
posted by horsewithnoname at 1:39 PM on April 25, 2003

I ran across Holdt's book of the same title while working at a bookstore in college more than a decade ago. It remains the most-perused book of photographs in my library, so much so that the cover started separating from the spine just last week. Each person that I have asked to look through the book over the years--no matter his or her political perspective--has been awed by these pictures. Thanks for the post, bureaustyle, and if you like this site, I strongly recommend the book.
posted by samuelad at 2:27 PM on April 25, 2003

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