Roots of oppression


From my lecture "On saying yes to those we shun and ghettorize" in the New York Photo Festival 2012

Background on myself

Descending from a long line of ministers I should myself have been a clergyman, but after been thrown out of highschool and the Royal Danish Palace guard I did not feel fit to study and was in 1970 invited to Canada as a farmhand.

My vagabond years 1970-1976
Afterwards I wanted to hitchhike to Latin America, but dramatic encounters with black Americans on my first day in the country motivated me instead to hitchhike more than a 100.000 miles for 5 years through the North American ghettoes.

Arriving with $40 in my pocket and never taking a job, I managed to survive thanks to the largesse of the people I met and by selling my blood twice a week to finance my film. I lived with both the poorest blacks as well as the wealthiest whites (the Rockefellers, the Kennedys), photographed for the Black Panthers and prison activist Popeye Jackson whom I was almost assassinated with.

How I along the way ended up photographing and presenting my pictures in small photo books for my drivers and hosts and slowly got the idea to make it into a slideshow, I describe deeper in the foreword of "Roots of oppression".

The show "American Pictures"
After returning to Denmark in 1976 I made the slideshow "American Pictures" which became an instant success all over Europe. After only a few months I invited black American friends over to present it in 14 countries and we formed the Africa Foundation to make sure that all the profit from the show and later the book and movie would go directly to the struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa.

In 1982 we moved the show to the US where I had my first show in Jane Fonda's private home for Muhammed Ali's family and since had "the longest treck record of any college speaker ever" with more than 7000 presentations in total in America and Europe, 18 times in Harvard, 20 in U.C. Berkeley, 10 in Stanford etc.

Black reactions
Angela Davis always had some disagreements with me about black selfhatred, but I won the enthusiastic support of Alex Haley, James Baldwin, Danny Glover and Coretta King, worked with Yolanda King presenting my pictures for president Clinton, became friends with Sapphire (author of Push, Precious) and Arthur Jafa.
American Pictures was officially endorsed by the chairman of the House Armed Services Commitee, Ron Dellums, first black elected to Congress.
And the first black Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, used the show to try heal the deep rift between the black and white city council members.

The book "American Pictures"
My book based on the slideshow, American Pictures, became a huge bestseller in Europe, but in America I decided to publish it myself to give my friends photographed in the book a chance themselves to sell it - not least the street people to give them an alternative to selling drugs.

By staying in touch with most of them while lecturing - often inviting them with me on tours into the universities to tell their own stories - I managed to continually update the slideshow with new photos - the photos I now use in this new book covering a period of 45 years. Many of my friends were also portrayed in European documentaries and TV-movies about my road life in America. 

Museum exhibitions of my best photos
From 2005 European curators discovered my photos as art and made exhibitions in many museums where among others Elton John bought quite a few of them.
Steidl published this book with them and MOMA Louisiana this book.
Artist Arthur Jafa, whose video went viral during the BLM protests, says that he was inspired by seeing American Pictures in college.
Danish award winning film maker, Lars von Trier, used them in three of his movies of which one, "Manderlay" was directly inspired by him seeing "American Pictures".
Oscar winning Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) also has an option agreement with me for filming "American Pictures" into a 6 part Tv-miniseries. 

Later years
Here in my old age I have recently started publishing my series of memoirs, "On saying yes" (in Danish) from which I have borrowed the chapters on my work with white hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and serial murderers in "Roots of oppression". I helped persuade two KKK leaders to leave the Klan - one right after I took him around to meet all my black friends as shown in this movie.

My dialogue center The Ubuntu House
And after years of conducting healing anti-racism workshops on the road I have opened the American Pictures headquarters as a dialogue center, The Ubuntu House, with daughter of Nelson Mandela, Zindzi Mandela, as our patron.
Here is my farewell speech for her just before her death about our long anti-racist struggle together

More background information
on Wikipedia and my own website with my CV.
And in the most recent movie looking back at my life, "Jacob Holdt - An American Love Story" (password:

With love
Jacob Holdt
Gernersgade 63
1319 Copenhagen
Phone +45-20-324412

Possible back cover which in the end will be decided by a publisher