Thursday, May 21, 2009


Pictures of Danish photographer Jacob Holdt who chronicled compelling stories of American racism here. He participated in the recently concluded NY Photo Festival. (via Lens).

His Web site, American Pictures, contains thousands of photographs documenting the lives of both black and white Americans, the underclass and the privileged. He has befriended and lived with his subjects; the poorest and the wealthiest, the migrant workers and the members of the Ku Klux Klan. He has become intimately involved in his subjects’ lives and photographed them in a fresh, direct style that turned out to have been years ahead of its time. From 1971 to 1975, he hitchhiked across America, a penniless vagabond who said he sold his blood twice a week to pay for film for the inexpensive half-frame Olympus camera that his parents had given him. Mr. Holdt has traveled tens of thousands of miles across this country, staying with his subjects and often eating in soup kitchens. 
This picture appears in Chapter 41 of his book and is titled 'Why we opressors love roses and tell endless rosy fables about them':
"For me, such a rose was Merrilyn. When I first met her she was a heroin addict although her habit was not too serious. She was only shooting up a couple of times a week and could therefore kick the habit when she finally managed to get a job downtown. Her situation in the little one-room apartment was despairing and I admire her for being able to get out of it, for I myself sank deeper and deeper while I lived with her. Never in my life have I lived in such oppressive and annihilating conditions. I was able neither to think nor write in the apartment. The reason was not only the constant housebreakings; it was rather the fear of them and the fear of what might happen next time as well as the fear of walking out in the hallway or in the street, where you could be attacked by knife- and gunmen. Narrowness you can become accustomed to. You soon get used to a dinner table which also functions as a bathtub in the kitchen such as thousands of people in New York have. You can also get used to having a wire fence between the kitchen and the bedroom so that the rats will not get in and bite you in the face. And it very soon becomes a habit to brush all the dead cockroaches on which you have lain during the night out of the bed in the morning. Even the constant shootings and police sirens from the oppressive, misanthropic and violent American TV-empire knocking through the walls from adjacent apartments can be a pleasant relief from the similar sounds from the street. But the persistent fear of that moment when you yourself might get stabbed in the stomach - that you can never get used to. Even on Christmas Eve I was attacked by three gunmen. How I survived it, you must not ask me. It is a paradox that in the richest country in the world the word "survival" (which I had never even heard before coming to America except in connection with Darwin) has become a daily standard concept. But ask rather how Merrilyn survived it - not only in body, but also in mind. Not only did she survive, but she was even able to wrench herself out of the ghetto. Today she is an actress and often comes around to introduce my slide show for my American audiences. Yes, she was a rose who managed to shoot up through the asphalt."

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