Jacob Holdt, the son of a Danish minister, arrived in the United States in 1970 with the intention of travelling to South America. However, fascinated by the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, Holdt decided to hitchhike across the US. This became a five-year road trip where he met people from all social backgrounds.
Holdt lived with gangsters and infiltrated Ku Klux Klan meetings, but also dined with the Rockefellers and Kennedys. At the same time he witnessed the abject poverty of southern black communities, and the lives of prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals and the unemployed in the inner cities. Using a cheap camera sent to him by his parents, and raising money to buy film by selling his blood twice a week, Holdt took over 15,000 photographs between 1970 and 1975. His raw and immediate colour images reveal a sincere and genuine curiosity in the people he met. Part travelogue, part social critique, his images present a powerful tale of human intimacy, poverty, alienation, violence and protest.
Since returning to Denmark in 1975, Holdt (b. 1947, Copenhagen) has used a slideshow and his bestselling book American Pictures (1977) to raise awareness of the extreme social injustice he witnessed. Holdt also works as a volunteer in several Third World countries and as a photographer for humanitarian projects. In 2007, Holdt’s imagery was radically re-appraised with the publication Jacob Holdt, United States 1970-1975 (Steidl-GwinZegal, Germany, 2007) and a touring exhibition of the same name, for which he was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2008.
A selection of his prints are available for sale from the photographer’s gallery.