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




Faith, Hope and Love – Jacob Holdt’s America is an ongoing drama of humanity and society. It consists of pictures from the past 40 years of Holdt’s life – images of big city people in the rough ghettos, drug addicts on the streets, the poor in their apathetic loneliness, the well-heeled in their despondency, the sick with no money for health care, the white, the black and the hungry. But love, hope and faith in the future are depicted too – the heart is the watermark in Holdt’s photographic project. This is about the Americans, but it is also about you and me. About people, about being human and about looking at the other and being with the others.

The social impulse makes Holdt’s work an important human suite even before it is given a political address. Holdt is a photographer and storyteller – far more in tune with literary realism and the documentary gaze than with the more formal experiments of the history of photography. For him the images are nothing without the narrative, without the human beings at whose lives we, the viewers, are looking.

In this catalogue we have gathered together three authors, each of whom has been struck by Jacob Holdt’s multi-faceted American pictures. The three essays take different routes into the core of the oeuvre. The artist Erik Steffensen, who gave the Louisiana the idea for the exhibition and, with his enthusiastic veneration for the pictures, has been its midwife along the way, brings home to us the things that are particularly true of Holdt’s work, viewed as art; the prizewinning English novelist and photography expert Geoff Dyer turns the spotlight on Holdt’s pictures as photographs both like and unlike the work of other photographers, and situates the Danish photographer in a prominent place in the history of photography; while the American law professor Sandra Ruffin, who as a young student at Harvard met Holdt on a tour of the USA, talks about how the oeuvre has played and continues to play a role as a socially and politically motivating factor for black Americans.

Holdt’s pictures do not have the smooth appeal of the advertising aesthetic – perhaps even barely live up to today’s standards of technical perfection. If the pictures are nevertheless outstanding photographs – crucial testimony with social and thus political power, which for a while can transport the viewer into the space of reflection that is called art – this is because of a specific praxis, which for Jacob Holdt is unlikely to have begun as a photographic praxis, but which in reality became one. On his first tour of the USA at the beginning of the 1970s the young minister’s son from Ribe set out not only to get within shooting range of his subjects, but also to be in there with his subjects. In the early years, in every place where Holdt was invited in as activist-errant and curious conquistador, he came to his hosts and their world – and thus to the subjects of the photographic saga on which he soon embarked – as a friend of the family, someone who looked sympathetically and as an insider, so to speak, at people and conditions.

As will be evident from the long interview Holdt has given for this book, the distinctive objective vulnerability to be found in his pictures arose as a result of cultural and social differences so obvious that the best will in the world could not deactivate them. In other words, the differences generate awareness. Emotionally, they are no obstacle but a bridge for Holdt.

The viewer is free to step on to this bridge – and yet not quite free, perhaps. For is it not the case that these very pictures by Holdt affect us in a special way? They are hard to look away from, you almost feel obliged to look at them – even though, given Holdt’s strong desire to show human, personal life in all its forms and nuances, they sometimes show us things we decidedly do not like to look at. On this issue the late American writer Susan Sontag wrote so aptly in the book Regarding the Pain of Others that we have considered it essential to draw attention to the essay once more by reprinting an extract.

Holdt is able to convey via the camera all the circumstances that crowd in on the lives we see with a low-key, sensitive rendering of empathy. It is the ambition of the exhibition to guide the viewer into Jacob Holdt’s universe – shaped as it is by an indignation, an empathy and a sure artistic eye for the good picture without which it would all lose itself in well-meaning triviality.

For the Louisiana an exhibition of Jacob Holdt’s work is a logical step along the path exploring the surrounding world that is the overall aim of the museum’s activities, culturally, aesthetically, socially, whether the medium is art, architecture, music or the living word. A museum of modern art must have an active metabolism, a permanent succession of exchanges not only with the disciplines of art (insofar as these exist at all in pure form) but also with the world around us. Jacob Holdt – whom we cordially thank for his commitment, his pictures and his will to place his (lifelong) American project in the hands of the Louisiana and thus the many people who visit the museum – is a very fine example of this.

Poul Erik Tøjner




 Copyright © 2014 AMERICAN PICTURES