During his trips, Jacob met and lived with many different people, from gangsters to prostitutes, to drug addicts, killers, Klan members, Rockefellers, the poorest black families from the ghettos and America’s impoverished of all kinds. He would sometimes write letters to his parents describing the horrible conditions black people lived in and the inhumane oppression they endured. Intrigued by his stories, parents sent to Jacob thirty-dollar Canon Dial half-frame camera to document everything. By selling his blood plasma twice a week to get two rolls of film, Jacob Holdt took fifteen thousand photographs revealing the devastating living conditions in the ghettos, the hopeless life in shacks, severe poverty, raging racism, violence, and famine, contrasting with the lavish life of the rich, who also opened their doors to the photographer.
Following the ‘say yes’ philosophy, a state of mind that entails saying yes to people and dealing with one’s prejudices, Holdt managed to gain access not only to people’s homes but also to their hearts. His natural curiosity and the unique talent for befriending and opening up those he photographed enabled the rest of the society to witness people’s pain and suffering through the legendary American Pictures.