Go back 

"A critique of American


20 papers from students in an economics class in Denison University

American pictures was probably the most shocking presentation I have seen. Mr. Holdt did an outstanding job of presenting his own biased views on poverty in the United States. 

Holdt's pictures helped me to realize just how sheltered I have been from the growing problems of poverty. It was mind-boggling to find out that in the 1980's slavery, in a sense, still exists. I can't believe that there is no governmental intervention in such cases. Although these people in the south-east are not true slaves they are definitely treated as such. The government outlawed slavery back in the late 1800's, so why does it allow it to continue? 

The poverty found in cities is hard to comprehend as well. Holdt presented the feelings of these people in such a way that you wish there was some way you could help them. You can't fast write off the problem because it is not yours. You want to help in any way possible but you feel powerless because there is really not much you can do. 

The expressions on peoples faces after the show indicated just how shocked everyone was. The problem of poverty in the U.S. is not well known to most people. We are all basically brought up in a very sheltered world. 

Most Americans look on the poverty stricken as people who do not work hard therefore they deserve the quality of life they have. Nobody deserves that type of life for any reason. My feelings are now such that the government needs to find a way to help these oppressed people improve their quality of life. Also Americans need to be better educated in the aspect of how big of a problem poverty really is in the United States. If Americans become more aware of this problem, it will be much easier to do something about it. 

by Bob 


The film American Pictures by Jacob Holdt was one of the most disheartening films that I can remember watching. I walked away from the film with a horrendous headache as well as the lowest esteem I remember myself having. 

I know the main idea of the movie was to make us aware of the plight of some of the poorest people in our nation both black and white. l feel. however that the main idea turned to a "put-down" of our social class. The majority of the pictures were of the most bleak situations I could ever dream of, therefore I could not really see where the photographs of the Rockefeller's and the like fit. I thought those pictures were a mockery of our upper class. Although Mr. Holdt said we should not feel guilty or ashamed for being naive I felt It hard not to. 

The method which he used I felt was an excellent one. The fact that we has no idea what we were going to see next made it hard for us to have time to prepare ourselves or give us time to look away from a picture thing we did not like. By the time it registered we had already seen the picture and the impression had been made. 

by Tara 


I was deeply moved by the slide presentation American Pictures. Though, I thought I knew poverty having seen it in parte of Harlem and a nearby Connecticut only, Bridgeport, the graphic pictures illustrated a level of poverty I never knew existed in this country. 

The slavery shown, might be portrayed to a depth below that of the 1860's, where the plantation owner actually cared for the well being and basic necessitates of their slaves. Today, in 1986, the "freed slaves" are actually unable to leave the severe poverty cycle as they lack the education, motivation and know how. 

I cannot explain why the political system, unions, and other organizations in this country haven't directed their energies toward giving these citizens a diagram to improve their standard of live. Why haven't unions organized these workers to negotiate for higher wages? Why haven't political leaders captured their votes? 

The impact of poverty and these impoverished people keeps repeating as images in my mind, particularly over this "parents weekend" when parents and students alike were dreamed, in their finest clothes and many of us, who were fortunate enough, were dining out. 

How can a country so rich in resources force upon some of its citizens such a meager existence? Isn't this story exactly the kind of propaganda communist countries use to expel the myth of America, the land of the free? 

Though I have many unanswered questions, if awareness is the first step in creating change, I feel confident the American Pictures accomplished this to many here at Denison. I hope in some way I can make nor contribution to the society I so truly believe in. 

by Mary-Lee 


Death of a Dream 
American Pictures is a graphic portrayal of the dark side of American capitalism. A disturbing journey into the faceless underclasses of America, it challenges not only today's status-quo, but even the present liberal campaign aimed to help these people. It is a story of victims, both black and white, of the subtle undercurrents of racism and exploitation that has permeated American society since her earliest days. 

The presentation deals with the pollution of the American dream of an entire class. The underclass, viewing their plight from the desensitized and unforgiving view of the rest of our society has come to blame itself for their failure to gain success, falling into a pit of self hatred and degradation. Convinced that they could succeed if they were only better people, an ideology spurred by upperclass racism and the scarce, but distinctive, success of the "middle class" blacks, they are sinking further and further into the cracks of our society. 

In the south, upperclass whites, victims of two centuries of racism and slavery, exploit blacks to extremes unheard of even in the days of slavery. Desensitized and conditioned by our modern, confused society and the archaic system of over a century ago, the southern upperclass whites still use blacks as slaves. Plantations and farms across the south still employ blacks lost in debt who barely make enough to exist in shacks. 

Loverclass whites, haunted by the same expectations as underclass blacks and the black middle class, of the bootstrap theory of the upperclass and the racism underlying our society, simmer in self rage and disgust. Their emotions explode in family and racial violence that only serves to create another generation of hardened, frustrated white trash and a violent edge to the horrible conditions of blacks. Both the whites and the blacks are dropped into a web of fear and anger that ensnares its victims more with every desperate act and every retaliation. 

In the slums of the north, the lower classes have no work, no money, and no homes. Packed into a meat market, they struggle just to breathe. Some try to escape through drugs, some struggle through violence, often senseless and cruel, to escape, and others just drown in the waves of flesh in a numb acquiescence of fate. They are trapped there by the same convoluted perspectives as the lover classes of the south. They blame themselves for their failures, and cannot, or will not, face its consequences, and get lost in their panic and their world. In a world of such violence and desolation there is not time for organizing and resistance, only for the struggle of survival. 

The presentation is a question. It is a question of whether we can change our society. Pumping dollars into the welfare system only aggravates the problem. Sweeping changes must occur in the national consciousness before any progress can be made. Nazis and KKK support is still startlingly real in the American heartland, and we are all guilty of racism to a certain extent, perhaps casually placing the blame for the underclasses' plight on the underclass itself, or maybe unconsciously shifting the blame there in conditioned responses to the plight - responses conditioned by a society still caught in the throws of slavery. Yet our best chances for such changes are contaminated already. Our powerful networks of communication serve to desensitize and dehumanize our populace with it's flood of commercialized violence. Our educational system is plagued by teachers with conditioned Expectations and minuscule concessions to the underclass' plight. 
Finally, our government, which sees fit to spend billions and billions of dollars upon genocide, and slashes our starved welfare programs to feed the fire. One wonders if America's promise has died. 

by Kent 


I was shocked by the horrors, depression, and oppression felt by the lower class Americans of today. I was fully aware of the deception felt by the Africans who were either tricked or traded and stuffed on the bottom of dark and dreary ships that reeked of rank wood and supper that would not stay in the shaken stomachs of Africans who had no perception of their dooms. I have been told of their misery since the day I was born. I know that the lower class always gets the "short end of the stick" hit. I did not know that the sticks they hold are this short. 

I was appalled by the fact that some forms of slavery still exist and right at my back door. I am from Memphis, Tennessee, and it still exists. There were many interesting, stunning, and heartbreaking facts that were dealt with in the movie, hut this fact was the most shocking. If there was more love, understanding, and less indifference in the world we would not be faced with such conditions. 

The most appalling part of the movie was the Ku Klux Klan's speech in sermon style that provoked an uproar of approval from his audience. Yes, blacks have been treated as animals, but they do not deserve to be called "monkeys" as the spokesman for the Klan did. The Klan's violent acts and hideous accusations lashed out at the black community are results of ignorance and fear which stem from a lack of understanding and indifference. The shameful thing is that people are taught such irrational beliefs in their churches. God does not teach hatred and fear. He teaches love, wisdom, and commands us to fear only Him. In God's eyes, there is no indifference, in fact, he commands us to love one another first, and if we cannot love each other, we cannot say that we love God. 

If we stopped to think of each other, love each other, and help on other, there would he no poverty and no mistreatment among us. 

by Cynthia 


American Pictures, a presentation by Jacob Holdt, presents a devastating look at the segment of our population which is most visibly defeated by racism. Holdt makes his statement through a seemingly endless selection of photographs filled with unsightly photographs of America's poorest population. Although this show seems to run on forever, it is through the continuous display of photographs that a feeling of oppression is preserved. For the first time ever, I personally was presented with a realistic view of lower class America, the conditions under which they exist, and the seemingly endless struggle that they are up against. Why is it that up until now the presentation of the struggle of America's lower class to society was virtually nonexistent? I find it very hard to believe that government and various social organizations are so vitally concerned with famine relief in foreign countries, when a major economic problem such as this exists herein the United States. Furthermore, how is it that the American government can be categorized as capitalistic, when it is not providing for the population as a whole? The American government is somehow able to provide billions upon billions of dollars for defense, but it is unable to provide welfare for these people who have no food on their plates, let alone a roof over their heads. It seems that perhaps government has not yet achieved the best allocation of American tax dollars. 

In addition, I find it hard to believe that the ideas of racism and inequality did not go out of style with the sixties. If America is such a well educated society, why is it we cannot understand that all races are equals It has even been proven scientifically that all races have the same origin and are physically and genetically indifferent. The presentation made by Jacob Holdt clearly illustrates the need for re-evaluation by government and the "majority" population regarding the ethics and priorities of the American society as a whole. 

by Lori 


American Pictures Critique 

American Pictures is a comprehensive view into the under-privileged sides of both our black and white society. It reveals the still present slave-master society in the deep south , as well as , the violent society ever present across the United States. 

The way in which Holdt presented hie violent pictures in contrast with the wealthy pictures of the Rockefeller's further enhanced the overwhelming social differences in our present society. After four hours of these eye-opening pictures , I was left emotionally exhausted. I was surprised at how unaware I was of the misery and poverty which is presenting our supposed "wealthy country." 

I find Holdt's presentation to he a very valuable one for our society to see. The sooner that people, as blind as our surrounding society are able to see the misery, the sooner people can reach out and help. The question our society must face is whether it's inhabitants are willing to or not. 

Holdt should be an inspiration to everyone, because he is capable of finding good in everyone and his views far surpasses our societies ingrained, narrow-minded and racialistic ideals. He clarifies for us why people act as they do . For example, I am now better able to understand why many black people act violently. It is due to their self-hatred, and why lower class whites are spiteful against successful blacks. 

American Pictures was truly enlightening for me. I will never think that our country is truly free and capitalistic again, or that we are successfully aiding the poor through welfare pro- grams Also, the fact that such violence can and will exist in such a large proportion without any measures being taken to control this violent overwhelms me. ( Southern police officers and continual shootings in Harlem ). 

The slide show essentially showed me how naive many people actually are. I have nothing negative to say about his presentation. I think it is of great value, and should he shown to everyone . It seems unreal to me that people who are so poor that they cannot afford to eat one meal a day go unaided, and that four year old's can he shot in the middle of the street. Holdt shatters the middle class view of a capitalistic, free nation, and effectively shows an entirely different, violent and racist world. 

by Holly 


Heart Breaking 

Upon viewing the presentation of American Pictures by Jacob Holdt I thought it confronted my beliefs of American society in a very re- warding fashion. I tried to leave my middle class biases behind, which in turn gave me a broker understanding of the problem America is still facing today. 

I found the message Holdt was trying to relay no doubt came over quite well, to the point where I was getting upset with myself for being so arrogant of the dilemma. The feeling of oppression through- out the whole elide show was evident from the faces of the audience. 

Where I'm confused is how Americans, being solely hooked on good living and equality for all, are still closing their eyes towards segregation which apparently, according to Holdt, is worse today en the sixties. The problem is obvious, especially in the deep south, where a great percentage of the population is in dire need of some relief, but sadly enough the programs to help the needy are being out in half. The question is what are we going to do to help these poor innocent people get a fair handshake. 

Conclusively, I think it was an excellent idea to bring Jacob Holdt to Denison. This university is made up of some very affluent students who may be secluded from this kind of racism. I know it opened my eyes and I'm very glad it did. With the harsh feelings one receives from watching this presentation I think its a great beginning in stimulating anyone in wanting to deface the devastating reality of segregation not only in America but the world, but it's only a beginning. 

by Mark 


American Pictures is a one sided portrayal of a part of society. It is told from the position of the worst off. It is four hours of oppression and the views of the poverty stricken societies of America are branded in your emotions and conscience. The show was the most culture shocking experience I have ever participated in. 

I thought the show itself was well presented and well organized. Jacob Holdt used chronological order as well as geographical location to keep his outline. His presentation is real and often the graphic pictures force the audience to turn their heads while their stomachs turn. He uses the length of the picture to his advantage. The audience is compelled to watch four hours of pictures which depict the horrid conditions of environment as well as physical and mental condition which poverty imposes on the human being. When the show was over all that filled everybody's minds for the next couple of days was American Pictures. 

I went through many changes during the course of the movie. At first I thought that the Southern sharecroppers were outdated and the KKK was a group of the past. When I saw the movie I was forced to update my thinking. A lynching in 1983 was the major point that made me realize the evidence of racism in the South. Being from the North I have been exposed to movies about drug addicts in Harlem, of course not to the extent of that which was in the movie, but the South was very foreign to me. As the second part of the movie started, I was in awe. I felt like I couldn't react. I didn't know how to feel or what to think, so I watched and became oppressed. 

My reaction at the end was mainly one of helplessness. Not helplessness for me , but for the people I had just seen in the pictures. I felt as if I needed to help , but knew I couldn't. I felt like taking all of my money and giving it to the first poor person I saw. I realized however that this was unrealistic. 

My next reaction was the feeling that I needed to talk about the show. I couldn't sit alone so my friends and I assembled in a roam to discuss our reactions. We all felt that something needed to he done , but knew that we were too small a group to begin to make a change. The talking relieved our confused minds as it felt good to relay everybody's reactions. 

Two days later American Pictures is in the past and my mind has stabilized. I will never forget the impact this movie has had on my view toward racism. I now feel much deeper for those less fortunate than I as before I was very quick to classify them as lazy. 

by Robert 


The slide show, "American Pictures" discussed life for poor, uneducated black people. It discussed how they were treated, how they lived, how the ate if they ate, etc. This slide show presentation had a big impact on me. I saw fellow countrymen taking advantage of colored people. This was truly a culture shock for me. I knew things were not very good during this time but I never realized the extent of all of the abuse and hatred shown towards the colored people. I also saw how some (many) white people rationalized everything they did. They believed that blacks were taking all of their jobs, and that they(blacks) were socially inferior. 

History books tell you a little about what happened but they never get as explicit as this slide show. I believed most of what was shown, but I still do not think that things were quite as bad as that. I think that he was talking about an extremely small percentage of our society and he exaggerated to an extent about their living conditions, working conditions, etc. There is absolutely no way that our country could have sat back and watched this abuse. These people were supposedly making $3000.00 a year if they were lucky, lived in shanties that had either dirt floors or rotting wood floors, and had little or no food. I believe what he is saying but I think that he made it sound worse than it was so he could get people thinking. So we as a people would realize that similar things are occurring now but to a leaser extent in some ways. He(the author) definitely grasped the audiences attention. I can see now how ignorant I have been about our country's past, especially on the treatment of colored people. 

by Leslie 


The movie "American Pictures" by Jacob Holdt, which was shown Thursday October 23, 1986, was both informative and overwhelming. Although the movie was biased, fran the position of the most poor of the United States, it presented to the viewers a realistic picture of the hunger and poverty that is present in our society today. By using over 3,000 pictures in the movie, Holdt effectively shoved his audience the severity of suffering in this country. Not only did he reveal true statistics which counter the myths that hunger in the U.S. is decreasing, but he also brought to light the many problems which Black Americans, in particular, still face. These problems include unjust payment for labor, unnecessary violence, and prejudice, which many Americans have been lead to believe no longer exist. The may in which he presented information about the poverty in America while showing both upsetting and sometimes gruesome pictures was very effective in relaying his message that we must change our present situation. 

In addition, the movie disproves the belief that poor people would not be poor if they would work to earn a good living. This is accomplished as the movie shows many people who spend over eight hours a day performing hard labor but are only paid a few dollars. Injustice such as this can only be improved through recognition and the desire to make changes. Hopefully, by exposing people to the problems that many Americans face, as Jacob Holdt has done with his movie, more people will want to improve the conditions in our society and use their voices to get something done. Maybe "American Pictures" can be the start of a movement to rid this country of hunger and poverty and create a more happy life for us all. 

by Lisa 


"..and the star-spangled banner in triumph shall waver over the land of the free and the home of the brave..." 

"..one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice far all." 

These are lines taken from the American national anthem and the pledge of allegiance which epitomize the ideals that made this great nation and which are supposed to be the basis of the culture of this country. The slide show American Pictures by Jacob Holdt tore apart this ideology which millions of people all over the world look up to with awe. 

In this sordid eye opener, Holdt painfully exposes what is ailing not just American society but every modern society all over the world. In his presentation, he has exposed the oppression of the underprivileged in America. It is indeed true that when one is bombarded by repressive actions and one's mind is tormented by fears, these negative emotions finally seep dearer into one's subconscious mind and this results in an inferiority complex which blocks the individual from succeeding in any endeavor. Thus what was an external oppression now becomes internalized and second nature. In the face of the resulting depression and frustration the individual becomes part escapist and turns to drugs, alcohol and violence as a means of setting rid of his frustrations. The individual then becomes a criminal in the eyes of society and will then be subjected to more oppression. This vicious circle continues and will be sassed down from generation to generation. 

It was shocking to see that in this day and age almost 130 years after slavery was abolished, slavery is still rampant in some parts of America. Coming from a third world country, poverty, pain and suffering is nothing new but it came as an unpleasant surprise that the land which sings of liberty, equality and justice for all, the land which gives refuge to the unwanted people of countries, the land which rushes to the aid the downtrodden and oppressed of the world, is turning a blind eye to the oppression and suffering of the minorities who are an integral part of the nation. What moves one to anger was the callousness and indifference of the rich upper class to the poor and underprivileged. 
It is infuriating to know that those who have gained their riches by trampling on and exploiting the poor are the same hypocrites who salute the American flag and often don the mantle of public respect by being elected to office. Instead of being true representatives of the people by the people and for the people they use their posts to serve their own selfish interests. 

Holdt also touches on the modern forms of slavery which are internalized. The accent was on the pains and frustrations of being a failure in society. The conditions prevalent in Harlem and the prison cells were appalling. The plight of the drug addicts and other 'outcasts' of society were moving. What moved me to anger and filled me with revulsion was the assassination of the black activist who, was working for prison reforms. It is ironic that this bastardly act was perpetrated by the same system that condemned the man to prison and in the final analysis was the same system that turned him to a life of crime. 

The presentation by Holdt was not without discrepancies. He portrayed the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in all it's gruesome reality, which was enough to make one's blood curl. But yet Jacob states that he had enjoyed close friendships with these people. He claimed that just like the blacks these people were also victims of internalized oppression which had roots in their childhood. All through the show, the evils of society were repeatedly thrown at us but not once did Jacob come up with a practical solution to the problems. His answer to all the problems was to recognize the good in every person and to solve every problem with love which is really heart warming but not very practical. Will "love" help to feed the starving children in the world? Will "love" help the misery and frustration of a person who cannot earn his daily bread and is vegetating for want of an healthier and more satisfying was of life? 

In my personal opinion 'love' is definitely not the cure-all panacea for all the evils in the world. It no doubt will make the going easier. A little more awareness and caring and a lot of sacrifices by every individual will definitely help in making some room for the underprivileged to grow. 

by Conrad 


"American Pictures: Critique" 

My reaction to the slide presentation of American Pictures was one of alienation and a little disbelief. It was hard for me to relate to and to comprehend some of the scenes that were shown in the slides. 

The presentation almost struck me as a massive propaganda campaign for the poor. Of course I believe that their are poor and hungry people in America, but I do not believe that the situation is as bad as the program suggested. I probably feel this way due to my upbringing in middle-class America. When the list of all the trouble he had run into in America appeared, I was in complete disbelief. I thought, "This guy does not hang around the same places that I do." After seeing the photographs, I realized that I had never bean to any area with as much poverty am I was seeing on the screen. Because of this, I felt completely isolated from the program. It made me feel almost guilty for being white. It was definitely a feeling that I had never encountered before. 

I agree that people should not have to live in those conditions, but I see no way of changing the way things are. It is not possible to change racial attitudes by passing laws, they can only be changed over time and apparently the United States has not had enough time to repair its racial attitudes. 

by Matt 


I went to see the presentation of American Pictures tonight and I was astonished at some of the things that were in it. I was totally ignorant to the situation of some black people in the south. I had no idea that there were still some forms of slave camps in the south. It was incredible to see the living conditions and wages that they earned. It was like the negroes were slaves again. I started thinking to myself why can't the government do something about this? It is downright degrading to the United States of America. I think it would be helpful if the president would visit some these camps and maybe something would get done. 

I can relate to some of these conditions because I worked in a lot of black homes during the summer. In one house there were about 4 daughters and each of them had kids. They would put them all in one room. There was hardly enough food to feed themselves, let alone there children. They did not have a refrigerator and they cooked things on a hot plate in the corner of the kitchen. At first it was hard to get use to these conditions because I am from a high class society which is predominately white. I was brought up with all the prejudices and stereotypes against negroes that Jacob was talking about. 

I think with all of the contact I had with the black society last summer, the stereotypes and prejudices have diminished immensely. I think if more people wake up and see what is going on around them that this terrible situation with the negroes will get more national attention and maybe something will get done. 

by Bill 


Jacob Holdt's presentation of" American Pictures "was an extremely jolting view of the American underclass. It brought out a side of society that many Americans are totally unaware. In our everyday lives we are rarely, if ever, exposed to this kind of poverty, so we tend to live as if it doesn't exist, but it does. The underclass is the worst possible product of our economic system. In the case of blacks in the South, slavery still exists indirectly. The people are so indebted to their employers, that little chance exists to lift themselves out of their situation. The American Dream that comes through opportunity and hard work is unattainable for these underprivileged people. 

In reaction to the witnessing of such poverty shown in Jacob Holdt's slides, there must be a sense of shame and feeling for the people in everyone's heart. When you see the horrible lives that these people lead, you just want to help in some way. The promoters, such as the K. K. K., that are condoning this disastrous way of life's need to be removed from society. The educational, social, and political structures of these parts of the country need to be reformed and made to aid these people in their desperation. Our nation cannot just ignore the few that are suffering. This shocking part of our society needs to be brought out into the open and dealt with. As the people become more aware of these problems, the elimination of the circumstances will come about faster and will be easier to accomplish. Jacob Holdt has taken the first vital step towards uncovering and presenting this dilemma. Now the people must follow through and resolve it. 

by Sam 


I personally found the film "American Pictures" to be fabulous and wonderfully effective to the viewer. It is amazing the feelings that one can obtain by watching such a moving production as "American Pictures". The examples of feelings received by many were guilt, disbelief, pissed, angry, upset, and the list goes on and on. I know that I had experienced quite a few of those feelings at the end of the film. Many people, including myself, are unaware of the living conditions of many societies today. I am sure they have heard of them, but they never have experienced them the way the author of this film did. He ventured inside these societies and experienced the life and living conditions. He was truly amazed of the lives of these people. These people lived virtually on nothing, and crime, murder, and rape was a part of their everyday life. Many of these people are still slaves, living in shacks with no electricity, heat, or running water. 

It is sad that people actually live like this; this is what the film was emphasizing. If we all care as a whole society, then maybe we can do something to help these poor people and vagabonds. We were not able to experience the true life of these people, but have seen pictures and they were pitiful. We cannot blame them nor others for the way these people are trying to survive, we must reach out and help them. Many of these people do not live to see half the things we experience. We should give them this chance. It is not their fault, most of them worked long hard hours for absolutely nothing. As a society we cannot look down upon them, because they are humans just as we are. They are striving hard to have the necessities of life, things we take for granted. We must combine as a whole and help them. We must look past all negative aspects, their different skin color, and different beliefs and help them because they are a living and breathing soul just as you and I are. 

by Elizabeth 


The viewing of the slideshow presentation by Jacob Holdt was a very enlightening experience for all who attended. Mr. Holdt attempted to shock his audience into the realization that poverty and racism still exist in America by displaying graphic photographs of poverty stricken areas and peoples in various locations in the U.S. 

The slideshow was very valuable in that it demonstrated very vividly that there is indeed a problem in America that few of us may have known still existed. The show was especially effective because it was presented in the perspective of a man who grew up in a country where racism did not exist and thus his mind was not instilled with the biases of modern American society. The fact that Mr. Holdt was a foreigner without such biases also granted him the advantage of being accepted equally as well by the rich as the poor. This enabled him to observe both sides of the situation first and then draw the conclusion that there is a fault in the capitalist system when the poor minorities are living in slave huts and eating dirt while the wealthy continue to oppress them and even find humor in the segregation. Mr. Holdt finds inconsistency in the thought that capitalism is supposed to be a system of the free in which anyone can achieve success through much hard work. In the case of the black workers in the slave camps of the south, the blacks are not provided with the opportunity for promotion, they work hard just to survive while the rich landowners reap all of the rewards for their efforts. 

There is obviously a very grave problem in America with the poor in the country. Jacob Holdt took the first crucial step in bringing this problem to our attention and hopefully if enough people are touched by this presentation then we can all begin to take steps to cure this horrible disease. 

by Jon 


American Pictures was undoubtedly a very strong and enlightening film. I didn't know what to expect when I walked in because I had no idea what it was going to be all about. As soon as I sat down I was handed a pamphlet which gave a little background and told me about the emotions I was going to feel, and then the lights went out and I was subjected to pictures and stories which shocked me. I thought that four hours would be unbearable but as I sat there I realized what an incredible learning experience it was going to be, and any amount of time would be worth it. 

When I think of poor people I don't really "think" about it. It's much easier for those of us that are well off to keep ourselves at a distance from the whole subject than to face it and deal with the guilt and sadness that comes along with the confrontation. One of the comments that was made by Jacob Holdt about the wealthy people that he had befriended after they had seen the whole thing was that they really had a desire to help these people as long as it wouldn't effect their economic situation. When that statement was made I was startled and guilty because that was exactly what had been going through my mind. It's easy to give some of your money to the poor to make ourselves feel better, but it's entirely different to genuinely help. When I left I felt emotionally drained and I was made much more aware of my feelings towards blacks and saw a new side of them. That was one of the main things Holdt was trying to accomplish I think -- to get his viewers to face their attitudes of racism. I didn't make any false promises to myself that I would try to go out and conquer the problems everybody had (whites) about their views of blacks but he helped me face mine and change them. I always liked to think I had no major prejudices; I have black friends and as a Catholic or just as a human being I shouldn't have any, but we all do and Holdt made me realize that I am no exception. 

by Archy 


Before I experienced Jacob Holdt's presentation, "American Pictures," I was unaware of two things. One was my slightly naive look at lover class blacks. Also I realized after viewing Holdt's slides that I had a few racist qualities in myself even though I had always denied that I was a racist. 

Before I saw the presentation I didn't know that some of the conditions shown in the slides were as bad as they were. I knew of the ghettos and how they were horrible places to live, yet I had very little idea that blacks still labored in the South almost exactly like slaves. I had no idea that racism was still at such a height in this country. I looked at slides depicting abysmal living conditions, cold-blooded and unnecessary murder, and starvation and realized that the whole situation is much worse than I thought it was. 

Secondly, before seeing the slides and hearing Holdt's description, I was completely lacking any racism. I definitely believe in equal rights and abhor organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. However there was still a vestige of racism in me. I realized that whenever it's dusk or night and I'm walking near some black youth on the street, I tense up as if they're going to flounce on me. Though I tell myself that they won't do it, it is still a form of racism to automatically suspect them. I had also accused lower-class black teenagers who had verbally or physically threatened me, of contradicting their own efforts for equality. I didn't fully realize that the aggressiveness was all they really had to fight the system with, and they are so (and can't be blamed for it) bitter that it's hard for them not to be easily set off. 

I am not a racist, however Jacob Holdt made me realize that I still had some traces of racism in me, and he also proved that racism now, especially in the South, is getting worse, and thus ended my naive viewpoint. I must praise Holdt for not only depicting the superficial problems of racism but also delving deeply and expanding these known problems that are deeply rooted and harder to realize and eliminate. I must now, however, do the latter, if I am going to be a good person. 

by Kenneth 


Jacob Holdt's presentation of American Pictures was insightful, painful, and truthful. By the end of the slide show the United States was no longer the "Great American Melting Pot", the country with the greatest capitalistic and democratic mixture, or the place where all dreams come true. It suddenly became a bitter, unfair, unfeeling, backwards country. For such a young country ceaselessly commended for it's quick growth, liberty, justice and freedom for all there dwells underneath a dirty festering wound that we, the people who enjoy the fruitfulness of our country, either deny or are ignorant to. 

For many of the viewers the fact that slavery, or a form of slavery, still exists was a shock. The fact that these workers spend their days growing end producing the owner's goods and do not get even a small percentage of the profit is unfair. That is not the American way of life as we consider it today. It may be that America's reputation is so exaggerated that we put this type of unfairness out of our minds in hopes that it will disappear. Obviously it will not disappear, from Mr. Holdt's statistics, the oppression of minorities worsens noticeably in just a matter of years. 

The goal of the slide show, to oppress the viewer, is truly effective. While watching, the viewer can feel the suffering, frustration and helplessness that these oppressed minorities must live with from day to day. The fact that the ending is in no way a hopeful one leaves the viewer with a lasting sense of sorrow and guilt. Although Mr. Holdt clearly stated that we should not feel guilty but instead try and see the facts as they stand, it was very difficult to realize what we had all indirectly done to the minorities without any feelings of guilt. 

When one considers economics in relation to the oppressed in the slide show, it seems that the free market is only geared to the haves and not to the have nots. Even though there are non-inflationary concepts such as price ceilings and price floors, the oppressed are so far removed from the country's average economic status that these economic concepts that are so helpful to us do little or nothing for the oppressed. 

The slide show was enlightening and definitely worth seeing. This touching and truthful documentary should be shown so often and so widely until American Pictures becomes as well known as "Romeo and Juliet", only then will there be enough strength and will to help activate a change and end oppression. 

by Yesim 

Copyright © 1997 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.
American Pictures - reviews