a sobering snapshot of late 20th century racism and poverty / james holdt's 15,000 provocative american pictures


James Holdt's website features a photoessay book which is a case study in racial oppression across the U.S. According to Holdt, he arrived in America in the early 1970s with $40, hitchhiked 118,000 miles and stayed in over 400 homes in 48 states.

Throughout his travels, he compiled over 15,000 provocative photographs depicting America's racist underbelly. There are pictures of black sharecroppers in Florida who were still picking cotton for a living. Holdt was allowed to live with them for a time and managed to photograph the sharecroppers' shacks, how they prepared their meals and even their children working in the cotton fields. The pictures seem to suggest that for many blacks in the 1970s, slavery had never really ended. There are even shuddersome pictures of the Klu Klux Klan. In another series, Holdt ventures north and presents us with images of stark poverty and drug abuse in New York. There are apartment buildings that appear to be abandoned -- filled with garbage, graffiti and broken windows -- until we see children playing in stairwells and dark hallways. Similar pictures are taken in D.C. and Detroit.

Many of the images are haunting -- some border on the grotesque with their portrayal of heroine and crack addicts (related: "How To Get Out the Game: An Interview with a Former Crack Dealer", The Liberator Magazine 3.1) -- and they offer an utterly grim portrait of black life in 1970s America. The shrewd observer will avoid feelings of the apocalyptic and instead find the collection to be a sobering snapshot of late 20th century racism and urban/rural poverty. Perhaps most fascinating of all are the images of America's ghettos at the peak of destitution. Today, the traditional inner city ghettos are quickly vanishing though the conditions that spawned them seem destined to remain.

Originally Posted 5/2/2011

We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).