Shacks or shackles

Chapter 13




When I live under the conditions which are typical for the underclass, I easily understand how the physical shackles also become mental.



The shacks we have confined blacks in since slavery are utterly inhuman and do not admit a feeling of freedom and intellectual expansion.



However, always seeing our outcasts consigned to inferior living conditions is just as hurtful and incomprehensible for white children.



Our natural joy of being with blacks is so violently suppressed that we are slowly manipulated into developing hostile images of our victims while we grow up.



The vicious cycle of oppression is completed to such a degree that whites today can rationalize the existence of blacks living right next to their own mansions in miserable shacks often smaller than this original slave cabin on the left.



A white student once remarked to me after my slideshow:  "Until now it never occurred to me that real people live in them!"



So hurt and victimized have we become that many of us find it almost unbearable to watch these pictures of our slain Cain-brother. Unlike spectators in other countries Americans often get up and leave before the end of my show.
Yet, Europeans would react the same way if I had portrayed our own victims of ghettoization - the Muslim immigrants.



While my images of broken people tend to make Europeans feel solidarity with blacks, they make some Americans feel so disgusted that they would rather kill them - as we shall see later. Since you can't kill my pictures - or that side in yourself they expose - you might turn off the computer.



I feel frustrated about photographing shacks, for the shacks - and the sordid human condition they reveal - I experience as far worse than they appear in my photographs.



In such pictures you cannot see the wind which whistles through the many cracks making it impossible to keep warm in winter.



You can't see the sagging rotten floors with cracks wide enough for snakes and various vermin to crawl right into the living room.



Nor do the pictures show the absence of running water, not to speak of bathrooms and showers, or even electricity.



Thousands upon thousands of Americans live by the glow of the kerosene lamp - at least those who can afford to buy kerosene.



And it is extremely difficult to give a photographic description of the peculiar sensation you have of suddenly being transferred to a condition we in Denmark have not known for the last hundred years - although it is delightful after all the stifling noise characterizing American homes suddenly to stand in the silence of no TV or radio.



Liberal whites with no fear of the lights being turned off sometimes maintain to me that the poor blacks ought to feel happy for this reason. With their romanticism they reveal a terrifying insensitivity toward the psychology of involuntary poverty.



And even if you are perhaps free from the invasion of the commercials of affluent society inside your shack, you nevertheless have your prospect destroyed by the omnipresent aggressive billboards right outside.



The powerlessness I feel trying to photograph these stifling sensations mirrors the powerlessness they impose on the trapped poor.



In the same way I feel it almost impossible to photograph America's rich upper class.



I can only photograph one room at a time which in no way shows the true dimensions of their mansions.



Furthermore, upper class habits have changed so that the rich no longer surround themselves with sumptuous splendor like the rich of the 1890's.



It is more difficult to photograph an abundance which allows expensive trips to foreign countries and possession of several mansions or ranches in several states.



Although the photographic gap between rich and poor is small, - the psychic leaps I take from shack to plantation home or ghetto to millionaire home each time seems like a trip from earth to the moon.