From the catalogue of Museum of Modern Arts Louisiana:
"Faith, hope and love" by Jacob Holdt

Text on Jacob Holdt

Holdt's activity as a photographer


In 1971, Holdt’s parents sent him a camera as a birthday present: a Canon Dial. The unusual feature of this 35-millimeter camera is that it takes pictures in a half-frame format (18x24 mm negatives). Holdt has never received any form of instruction. All the technical know-how related to photography that he has acquired is selftaught.

I was always working with 160 ASA film and didn’t have an extra camera with high-speed film. So I needed some light and I typically put the flash behind a lamp and sometimes wrapped it in a piece of pink toilet paper to make it look like the light from an oil lamp in a home without electricity. I was always going around to stores asking for pink toilet paper, to get that reddish glow. It was the only way I could make those shots. Shooting with the flash alone flattens everything out, and the mood of the moment before the picture wouldn’t come out at all. I was always trying to recreate that in different ways. After all, it was completely dark in a lot of these homes and I wouldn’t have been able to get a picture without using a flash – I wouldn’t have gott any pictures at all.

During the period 1972-75 Holdt spent a lot of time taking pictures: He shot approximately 15,000 photographs. Since that time, he has taken a great many pictures in America and in the rest of the world. During the years he spent as a ‘vagabond’ in the United States, Holdt sold his own blood twice every week in order to generate the money to pay for film and for developing his pictures.

I discriminated in my pictures. I think I more or less subconsciously chose the more attractive members of a family and chose to take pictures of them. I’m not crazy about group shots with 10 or 20 people at once. So, I sit there waiting – when is a single person alone with his or her thoughts? Simply because I knew that white racism discriminates against certain aspects of black culture, I always had to speak to the deeper humanity in whites – in that sense, I had to be racist myself.

Holdt has always been very concerned about getting to know the people whose pictures he is taking. Typically, he lives for some days with the people before he starts taking pictures of them.

As a rule, I had to stay with people two or three days before reality crept in, before they were suitably relaxed around the photographer to allow me to interpret what I saw and see the deeper, underlying reality. Then you may ask, is this the true, deeper reality? And yes, it is. Things whites didn’t see, don’t see. They see it as something else. So it was important for me to sit and wait for those moments that, so to speak, showed the reality before the strange photographer intruded. And that takes time.

From the beginning of the 1990s, Holdt started to work as a photographer for the humanitarian organization, CARE. As part of these efforts, he meets members of minority groups and oppressed or persecuted people in a number of countries all over the world: for example, in Kosovo, where he portrays the Albanians’ homecoming to charred houses destroyed by fire and relatives whose corpses lay in mass graves.

I’ve always said I wasn’t a good photographer but a good vagabond, good at getting into homes no one else could get into, but where anyone could have taken a good picture.

Holdt continues to take photographs wherever he is. Recently, in the spring of 2009, he traveled around the United States in order to visit old friends. While moving around, he also met people he had not met before, whose lots in life he managed to capture with the camera’s lens. The result of these efforts now constitut

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