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
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
How I along the way ended up photographing and
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
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
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
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.
Angela Davis always had some disagreements with me about black selfhatred, but I won the
enthusiastic support of Alex Haley,
Danny Glover and
Coretta King, worked with Yolanda King presenting my pictures for president
Clinton, became friends with
Sapphire (author of Push, Precious)
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,
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.
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
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
exhibitions in many museums where among others Elton John bought quite a few
published this book with them and
MOMA Louisiana this book.
Artist Arthur Jafa, whose video went viral during the BLM protests, says that he
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
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) also has an option agreement with me for
filming "American Pictures" into a 6 part Tv-miniseries.
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
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,
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
Wikipedia and my own
with my CV.
And in the most recent movie looking back at my life,
"Jacob Holdt - An American Love Story"