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

Text on Jacob Holdt

Holdt on the road


Jacob Holdt likes to refer to himself as a “vagabond”. As a matter of fact, it is as a vagabond that he lived a significant part of his life after having emigrated first, in 1970, to Canada to work on a farm and shortly thereafter to the United States. In 1971, Holdt began to wander and hitchhike around the United States. The following year, he hitchhiked to Guatemala in order to support the guerilla struggle but realized that he could not support violence. In the years 1972-75, Holdt hitchhiked for more than 100,000 miles around the United States. During this period, he did not reside in any one place for more than a few weeks at a time; typically, he stayed only a few days.

"I called myself Vagabond for years, because that’s what I felt I was. For years after I returned from the States, I wanted to get back on the road, but I was simply sidetracked by having one hit after another."

In 1974, Holdt married a black American woman. They moved into a ghetto area and dwelled there in a condition of dire poverty, surrounded by criminality, to boot. After half a year, Holdt fled out on the highway, but in late 1975 he brought her with him to Denmark.

In Denmark, the success of the slide-show lecture American Pictures, served to send Holdt around to different places in Denmark and eventually to many other places in Europe – and later on, the United States. In 1981, Holdt resumed hitchhiking around the United States. This time, he set out from the San Francisco Film Festival and made the cross-country excursion to New York.

Afterward, in 1982, he hitchhiked 5,000 miles through Africa in order to find suitable aid projects for which funds he had earned on the sale of American Pictures could be offered. Later that same year, Holdt hitchhiked in excess of 10,000 miles through the American ghettos with his 2-year-old son. By experiencing the world in this way, his son would ostensibly not be negatively affected by the racism of the whites: this was Holdt’s primary purpose in making this trip.

"Some don’t want to have anything to do with you at all, others can’t do without an alliance with white people who open up to them. At the time I was traveling, a lot of black people adamantly did not want to have a white man staying in their house. That was the attitude of a huge number of people. The poorest blacks were afraid of whites in a different way, of course. But the middle class, which was in a period of powerful political liberation, often wanted nothing to do with white people."

In 1986, Holdt – together with his family, wife and kid – settled in Boston, largely to distribute the American Pictures. Since coming back from this sojourn, Holdt has been residing primarily in Denmark, although he does continue to travel all over the world.

"What I really respected about my father’s work was his social work with people in the parish. I didn’t think of him as a particularly religious person. What counted was his human engagement. My father talked with people who were going through hard times. On the road in the U.S. that was my experience, too – that people had a need to talk to me."

Since the beginning of the 1980s, Holdt has been taking passengers along with him on his travels around the United States. The Danish poet, Pia Tafdrup, has accompanied him on several occasions. The Norwegian author, Eli Sæter, has also been with Holdt on a few of his American trips. Sæter’s encounter with a few of the criminals that Jacob knows inspired her to write En amerikareise.
Still today, Holdt continues to take people along with him on his travels.

In 1994, Holdt flew to Haiti to photograph the American troops there, where he moved into the poorest and most violence-besieged slum areas, Cité Soleil.

From the outset of the 1990s, Holdt has worked as a photographer for the humanitarian organization, CARE. As part of this work, Holdt has traveled to Bolivia, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Guatemala, Kosovo and Uganda. However, the United States continues to attract Holdt’s interest. He still goes on “American trips” every now and then – most recently, in the spring of 2009.


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