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Danish Imports – One Year Later

Exactly 12 months ago I was celebrating my very first photo exhibition here in Copenhagen. It was something I’d been thinking of doing for a couple of years and it was a definite learning curve for me. Not only was I under pressure to include a selection of images I was proud of, but also to present them in a way that was both professional and worthwhile.

In the end, thanks to the team at Generator Hostel and in particular, Michelle Exarhos, the opening night was a roaring success and I was overwhelmed by the support of those who came by to see my work.

Now, one year later, I feel it’s time to revisit the exhibition, which was entitled Danish Imports. The concept was simple: what were the reasons people came to live or visit the world’s fourth freest nation. Be it work, education, or love, the stories I discovered showed a diverse cross-section of the foreigners who call Denmark home.

Over the next few days I’ll be sharing individual images from the exhibition and writing about the stories behind them, including how I came to meet and photograph those who took part. Today we will be starting with Merial, who was the very first person I caught with my camera. Check out her story below.

Portrait of a South Korean girl

The Student

The first thing that got my attention with Merial were her leopard-print glasses, and it was this photograph that first inspired the exhibition.

Merial – or Myeong Jae to give her her full and proper name – was previously a High School English teacher in her native South Korea before she decided in March 2012 to ‘experience a new and different country.’

Just one year later, however, Merial was forced to return home due to complex issues with her visa. For Merial the six months didn’t seem too long, especially as she got to see her family and old friends again, so she didn’t miss Denmark that much. “I knew I was coming back, so it was more like a vacation,” she says. Her boyfriend was definitely someone she missed, though, as well as the fantastic weather that Denmark experienced that summer.

The 25-year-old claims that, as of yet, she hasn’t contributed anything to Danish society, and that the language, wind and darkness have been the biggest challenges she has faced. But living here helps her to enjoy a ‘not too busy life’ and the opportunity to relax more. In other words, her stress levels are way down.

Being open-minded and having a Danish partner have helped Merial to integrate in to Danish society, she believes. And like a lot of foreigners unacquainted with bike-happy Copenhagen, Merial initially spent forever getting around the city – something that seems to annoy many Danish boyfriends and girlfriends (speaking from experience and with Merial). “I just couldn’t believe how awesome it was to be able to cycle around and enjoy the city,” she told me. “Danes take it for granted that they have such a bike-friendly country.”

Staying permanently in Denmark might not be on the cards for Merial, who wants her partner to experience South Korea. “My family means a lot to me,” she says, “and [being away from them] is the only thing that makes me sad from time to time.”

Now living in Rødovre with her partner, Merial is currently studying a Masters Degree in English Studies at Copenhagen University. She speaks Korean, Japanese, English and Danish.

Getting the shot

When I first asked Merial to pose for me she was more than happy to do so. I’d not been in Denmark very long, and she was one of the students in my Danish class at København Sprogcenter. As mentioned above, it was her leopard-print glasses that got my attention and that was all I could focus on.

When I got to her apartment I only had one thought in my mind, and that was to take a simple portrait picture with a 50mm lens. This type of lens is often used for portraits, as it presents the subject in a flattering way.

Once we entered the lounge / stuen I noticed a chrome lamp in the corner. The dome-shaped head seemed the perfect tool to reflect my flash in to, so I positioned it at a classic 45 degrees up-and-to-the-right angle and adjusted it as necessary. And that was pretty much it; no fancy second flash or gels used in this shot.

What I should mention at this point, is that, as a photographer, I was in limbo when it came to finding my own personal style and niché. Having been at a local newspaper for a few years and then travelling for eight months, I was still trying to find my feet as a freelancer for the first time in my life. As a result, I found myself playing around in Photoshop trying to make the image look a bit more interesting. I wish I could tell you what I did to achieve this final image, but the truth is I have no idea! Clearly I’ve added some kind of vignette to darken the corners of the picture, and added a shade of green to it at the same time. This was probably to compliment Merial’s purple jumper (green is the opposite to purple on the colour wheel). I would’ve also sharpened her eyes a little and softened the rest, I suppose.

It was hard for me to choose a favourite picture during the exhibition, as each one had its own interesting story and challenge behind it. But my eyes kept returning to Merial’s as I glanced around the room all evening. As I asked people which picture they preferred, many replied that it was Merial.

It’s Marathon Time

You can’t really miss all the maps, posters and warnings that are dotted around the city at the moment. That’s right; it’s that time of year again where 12,000 people put themselves to the test and run for 26.2 miles.

The Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon (to give it its official title) is without a doubt one of the flattest courses in the world. That means a lot to those taking part (obviously) – but then there’s the wind. And we all know how much we just want to punch that invisible foe when we’re cycling home from a long, hard day at the office.

For the second year in a row I’ll be taking the official photographs of the race, as it weaves its way through the streets, parks and harbour areas of the city. Last year I remember just how awesome the buildings and scenery looked once I was editing my pictures. And even though 12,000 sounds like a lot of runners, it pales in comparison to the Big Five – New York, Boston, Berlin, London and Chicago. Which is odd, really, because Copenhagen has to be one of the cleanest and safest cities to visit (and we’ve already mentioned flattest). It throws its arms open wide to all members of society, and getting from A to B is pretty easy.

Knowing just how important the event is to the organisers (and thousands of others involved), I decided that I really wanted to help put Copenhagen on the map. Which is why this year I will be designing a fantastic 38-page Photo Book containing some of the best images from the race.

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And for those taking part, all pre-ordered books will include the finishing time of the individual – plus race day statistics, such as average temperature and rainfall.

If you’re taking part this year (or know someone who is), this book will make a great visual memento of a brilliant race. Pre-orders (which will also be discounted from 300kr to 249kr) must be made before 11:59pm on Sunday May 24th.

For more information on the project, please visit www.matthewjames.dk

Hope to see as many of you out there on the course as possible. Don’t forget, your support along the route is so vital, so remember to bring your flags and music with you.

And of course, best of luck to all the runners…

Same-Sex marriage in Denmark

Or, how Sasha and Anthony got one step closer to happiness
written by Antoaneta Borisova

This is the story of Sasha and Anthony, a lovely gay couple, who have been struggling to be together for more than six years now. I use the word “lovely” not because I want this article to be cheesy, but because it contains “love”, plus it describes them best. Matthew and I had the pleasure to meet Sasha and Anthony and commemorate the most important day of their lives, or shall I say their life: their wedding.

I wanted to write about them not only because it’s a beautiful love story, but also because it inspires, with their never-ending persistence and great dedication in a world where everybody so easily gives up. The other reason was to give Denmark big thumbs up for making this possible. Good job, Denmark!

In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, in the form of “registered partnerships”. In June 2012, the law was replaced by a new same-sex marriage law.

Sasha (Saša), aged 39, is from former Yugoslavia, and Anthony, aged 36, is a Mexican American from Dallas, Texas.

They met in Dallas back in 2008. They like to say it was meant to be, since none of them really wanted to go out that night. But yet they did. And it happened to be at the same club. They started to dance together, which of course led to conversation – you know how these things work. There was an instant connection and thus began their relationship.

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Detention Centre
After 6 months they moved in together and started making big plans for their future. But it all instantly changed when Sasha was detained by immigration. He’d arrived on a tourist visa, which had since expired, and needless to say, Anthony was devastated. He didn’t know what to do, so he hired an attorney. Papers were filed and they waited.

Sasha was held in a jail in west Texas about three-and-a-half hours away from Dallas. He was allowed visitation on Saturdays and for three months Anthony went to see him every week. After nothing looked promising they decided to stop fighting the American immigration law and allowed Sasha to be deported. December 30th 2008: a sad day for two people in love.

Initially they didn’t know what they were going to do but none of them was ready to give up. They started emailing and talking on the phone daily and Anthony made his first trip to Europe the following year. The visit was a new experience for Anthony as he had never been to Europe before, but most importantly, they finally got to meet again and spend time together.

Two years apart
Over the next five-and-a-half years the pair have maintained a very long distance relationship. Many people ask how have they been able to keep this up. Technology holds the answer; especially Skype.

Screenshot 2015-05-07 12.45.39

In June 2013 Sasha earned a degree in Banking Finance and Trade. They had looked into the option to emigrate to Canada, which unfortunately proved impossible. And although several US states were already legalizing same-sex marriage, at a federal level it was still restricted. This was because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a marriage between a man and a woman.

They received a breakthrough when DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court, allowing them for the first time to petition for a fiancée visa in January 2014. A year later, in February 2015, their application was officially denied on a technicality, and the couple were forced to re-file. It was Anthony’s attorney who decided that they’d have a better chance for a visa approval if they got married.

It turned out that Denmark was the only place in the world where they could do this. Amongst the 18 countries where same-sex marriage is legal (20 counting Mexico and USA, where it’s legal only in some jurisdictions), only Denmark marries couples who are not residents of the country. And in Sasha and Anthony’s case, this was their only chance.

In just one month they made all the arrangements, which took a great deal of effort. Fortunately Copenhagen City Hall was very efficient, and they were able to submit everything online and got permission to marry.

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Prior to leaving for Denmark they’d received notification that immigration was re-opening their case, but just weeks after tying the knot in Denmark their petition was denied once again. Now, the only hope left for them to be together is to re-apply for Sasha’s residency as a spouse. That procedure could take at least six months just to be taken into consideration. And if everything goes well, Sasha will be together with his husband in the US by the end of the year. If not, they will be considering Denmark as a possible future home. If Anthony can get used to using public transport.

“Our lives have been on hold for so long, and all we want is to just start our life together,” explains Anthony. “Getting married in Copenhagen is affirmation that our relationship will survive distance and time.”

“Denmark is and always will be our special country that gave us the opportunity to get married. One and only.” added Sasha.

Good job, Denmark. Good job!

This article first appeared online at http://blog.photographybymatthewjames.com/

Red Bull Cliff Diving Returns to CPH

If you’ve had your head in the sand for the past few weeks (or have just moved to the country) then you might have missed out on some pretty awesome news: the return of Red Bull Cliff Diving to Copenhagen.

Back in June 2013, several of the world’s bravest athletes stood on the roof of Copenhagen’s Opera House before launching themselves off and in to the harbour waters below. The turnout of spectators was crazy, as thousands arrived en masse to catch a glimpse of this unique event. And this year they’ll do it all again.

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There were some amazing images from the event last time around, and chances are that this year will be no different. Many photographers (myself included) were welcome to take pictures but weren’t allowed on to the actual roof. Apart from Jesper Grønnemark.

Naturally Jesper’s work caught my eye after the competition and over the next few months, so a couple of weeks ago I invited him round for a coffee and an informal interview to hear about his journey from passionate Efterskole amateur to official Red Bull photographer.

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In this industry, being in the right place at the right time has a lot to do with it. It was certainly no different for 17-year-old Jesper when he visited Copenhagen on a class trip with his fellow Business School students nine years ago. A huge fan of Freestyle Skiing, Jesper one day found himself face-to-face with one of Denmark’s best skiiers in a sports shop in the city. Realising a great opportunity when he saw it, Jesper went and introduced himself.

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“I just went over and said hi and told him that I was a sports photographer,” Jesper tells me. “I told him to check out my website and left it at that. Though I have to admit, ten years ago, my portfolio images weren’t the best,” he says with a smile. “But I’m guessing this guy saw something in the them, because two months later he invited me to the Danish Nationals in Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding.”

This was the big break that Jesper needed and within the year he was hired to make a film – a project that lasted 18 months – and was well on his way to becoming a professional sports photographer.

The jobs and projects kept coming in and eventually Jesper landed a three-week training programme at Red Bull Media House in Austria. It was here that he learned just what it was that the company needed from their photographers in terms of style, workflow and editing of images.

Since then Jesper has been the go-to guy for Red Bull as well as dozens of sports companies around the world, and his action and portrait images can be seen on posters, adverts and in magazines throughout Europe. Nowadays he can be found photographing all the major Red Bull events, plus many other action sport tournaments and competitions.

But it was one of Jesper’s most recent projects that caught my eye: Trapped in iPhone.

“My friend bought me the very first iPhone model seven- or eight years ago and we were sat there unlocking it when we came up with the idea,” he explains. “We thought, how cool would it be to have your contacts trapped in the phone.


“I’ve got a few images now for the project, I’m just looking for a computer geek to help me turn it in to an app.”

When I asked Jesper how he found the time for personal photo projects he gave me a very poetic answer: “Time isn’t something you’re given; you have to take it. I try to do one thing each day towards the project, even if it’s just sending an email or buying something from the supermarket.” Wise words, especially for those of us struggling to squeeze our lives in to our daily routines.

“It’s important to do your own personal projects and show them to the world. It’s easier to sell the idea once you’ve already done it.”

You can see a lot more of Jesper’s work by visiting his website www.gronne.dk or find out about his upcoming Action Sports Photography Workshop by visiting his Facebook page.

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Danish Photographer wins prestigious prize

World Press Photo of the Year 2014, First Prize Contemporary Issues.
Photo by Mads Nissen

World Press Photo ward, Mads Nissen,   First Prize Contemporary Issues, Russia, Homosexuality,

The winning photo from Danish photographer Mads Nissen.

A photograph that highlights the difficulties facing sexual minorities in Russia has won the World Press Photo contest’s top prize. ‘Jon and Alex’, from a project called ‘Homophobia in Russia’, shows a ‘intimate moment’ between a gay couple from St. Petersburg and won Danish photographer Mads Nissen the Contemporary Issues category of the competition, as well as the first prize for a single image, netting him 11,500 Euro and Canon DSLR equipment.

The 2015 contest attracted entries from 5692 photographers representing 131 nationalities, and drew in a total of 97,912 pictures. Once again what constitutes an acceptable degree of digital manipulation has been questioned, with a spokesperson reportedly telling UK photo magazine Amateur Photographer that 22% of the short listed entries were rejected by the jury once original files were called in for checking. The World Press Photo foundation published Integrity of the Image (PDF), a paper dealing with the characteristics of image manipulation and the acceptable boundaries last year, which describes what it considers ‘minor/normal/subtle/moderate’ and which acknowledges that defining ‘excessive’ is open to interpretation.

For more information on the winners, the competition and to see a gallery of all the winning entries, visit the World Press Photo website. You can also hear the phone call in which Nissen was told he had won the overall prize.

What do you think of the image? Did it deserve to win?