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?

Bikes in the Harbour: Is yours down there?

You’d be surprised at how many there are

Man it was a chilly weekend in CPH. So I’m glad I warned my friends from the UK to bring extra clothing before they arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The couple flew in from the South West of England where temperatures are slightly milder than the rest of the country, so I expected it to be a bit of a shock for them and their 16-month-old daughter (who refused to keep her gloves on, by the way).

As with most Brits who experience Copenhagen culture for the first time they were shocked / intrigued / curious to see other babies and toddlers sleeping outside cafes in their prams and pushchairs whilst their parents sipped on a nice, warm mug of hot chocolate or chai latte inside. And of course they were impressed at the amount of cyclists streaming past, despite the sleet and snow and close to freezing temperatures.

bikes, bicycles, stolen, theft, harbour, holmens kanal, cykler, tryveri, københavns havn, photography by matthew james,

The team continue their search for missing and stolen bikes as onlookers take pictures. Temperatures that day were close to freezing

Which is when we all spotted something kinda cool down by Holmens Kanal: a recovery team retrieving abandoned bikes out of the crystal clear waters. There was already quite a little crowd taking pictures of the operation, which included a barge which was already heaving with rusty bicycles covered in aquatic plant life and the such.

bikes, bicycles, stolen, theft, harbour, holmens kanal, cykler, tryveri, københavns havn, photography by matthew james,

A bike is retrieved from the water by the team

The team was made up of at least one scuba diver that we could see, who was using a video camera connected to a monitor onboard the barge. Via the monitor we could see what he was seeing whilst listening to the dialogue between him and the crew. At this point my friend Laura pointed out how cold it must be down there for the diver, before her husband Alan – an independent Hot Tub specialist from South West Spas – replied that a supply of warm water was being pumped in to the diver’s suit, keeping him as comfortable as possible. Only a Hot Tub specialist would notice that!

Slowly and methodically the barge made its way down the canal, with the number of bikes being dragged out increasing every few minutes. Eventually Laura asked a very good question, “How the hell did they all get down there?” On average, 200 bikes go missing every day in Denmark, with the vast majority of them in Copenhagen. What’s more, just one in every 100 bike thefts result in criminal charges, reports the newspaper Politiken.

“If you register your new, expensive bike as stolen, but we do not have a suspect, we cannot investigate the case further,” Kaj Lykke Marlund, spokesperson for Copenhagen Police Station City, told Politiken. “So we can only find it if it is turned in as lost property, if we see it listed on Den Blå Avis, or if we stop someone who is riding it.”

bikes, bicycles, stolen, theft, harbour, holmens kanal, cykler, tryveri, københavns havn, photography by matthew james,

A member of the team throws another bike on to the pile of recently discovered bikes, tyres and trolleys

But the question still remains: if a bike isn’t stolen for financial gain then what is the reason? Kleptomania, perhaps? A quick getaway from another crime? Throwing a bike in to the harbour seems like a simple if not temporary way to hide evidence. Or maybe it’s the actions of drunk people on a night out. There are dozens of reasons, no doubt. In England we don’t have as many bikes to throw in the rivers that run through city centres, though interestingly, shopping trolleys seem to find their way in to the murky waters on a daily basis. I’d say there’s definitely a link here.

So if you’re new to Denmark and think that crime rates are low then you are absolutely correct. But, don’t forget to spend a little extra on a decent bike lock, otherwise you might find yourself identifying your precious mode of transport in a Canal Barge lineup this winter.

bikes, bicycles, stolen, theft, harbour, holmens kanal, cykler, tryveri, københavns havn, photography by matthew james,

Bikes and a mobility trolley can be seen onboard the barge

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen recovered from the waters of Copenhagen or your home town? Sign off below, with pictures if you have them.

Getting the shot: Nykredit CPH Marathon

January is usually a quiet time for me and probably most photographers in the Northern Hemisphere, but thankfully there’s been enough happening to keep me busy. Two weeks ago, for example, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten printed a massive full-page advert for the Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon, which you can check out below.

Nykredit, Copenhagen Marathon, København Maraton, CPH, KBH, photography by matthew james, sport and action photography, sport fotograf, løb, NBRO, runners, running, jyllands posten

The full page Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon promo for Sparta

The brief for the picture was simple: get a few members of NBRO Runners to jog along Dronning Louises Bro (a wide bridge in the city centre) and make it look relatively empty of traffic.

I arrived half-an-hour early to scout out a decent spot where I could get high and look down on the runners. I even enquired in a few shops if it was OK to shoot from their upstairs windows. The answer was yes, but the windows wouldn’t open wide enough. So instead I reverted to plan B – a step ladder that I found lying abandoned in a stairwell. Remarkably I actually found the owner of the ladder in a restaurant and asked if it was cool to use it for 10 minutes. Like all Danes I meet, he wasn’t at all bothered and was only too happy to assist.

At 3:30pm the runners arrived and group leader Anders suggested they run right down the middle of the road. It was a daring idea but one I liked, so, with cars, buses and cyclists screaming past continuously, we got to work.

My assistant carefully held on to the ladder, which I had positioned on the central reservation along Nørrebrogade. Her instructions were to catch the camera first if I fell, and worry about me later. But with the light fading and the rush hour traffic increasing, time was against us and we had to work fast.

Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon, København Maraton, CPH, KBH, sports and action photography, sports fotograf, NBRO runners, running, løb, motion, photography by matthew james

Taking ridiculous risks as usual to get the shot.

Every 30 seconds or so we were given a window of easy traffic as the lights turned red, so in those moments the runners got in to formation and started jogging towards me. Unfortunately there wasn’t a single shot without some kind of vehicle in the background, but I thought I could worry about that later. And within five minutes we were done.

Back in the lab I started the “fun” process of elimination, whereby I had to choose which picture looked best, despite most of them all looking identical. I eventually found one with just one van in the background and immediately got rid of it in Photoshop.

Next I did a few basic edits to the sharpness and contrast, before converting it all to black and white and then popping the colour back in to the runners. Funnily enough I usually tease other photographers who do this, but on this occasion it actually seemed to work. I don’t know, you tell me.

Looking outside the window right now it’s hard to imagine spring, let alone summer. But time seems to fly by these days and it will be the Nykredit Copenhagen Marathon before you know it once again. If you’re taking part this year I’d love to hear from you, especially if it’s your first marathon. And if you crossed the finish line last year then you might like to see a selection of pictures from the race itself. Head over to and let me know what you think.

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Has anybody else noticed how unorganised a lot of the supermarkets here in Denmark are? I’d been living here for less than four hours when I was warned at the checkout in Fakta to always “check my receipt.” The warning came from a friend, not an employee or a sign in the store, and it was priceless advice. Sure enough, we checked the receipt and there was a mistake on it. A discounted product, clearly marked in-store, had not been discounted and we’d paid the full price.

Naturally this didn’t end there. In fact, for a while my partner and I gathered all the receipts from all the supermarkets that hadn’t applied the discounts at the point of purchase and it didn’t take long to have a small handful. Nor was it just Fakta that was to blame, but more expensive brands like Irma and Super Brugsen, but the biggest offender was Netto.

The last thing Denmark needs (ever) are huge corporate supermarkets like Tesco and Wal-Mart, who have been accused in the past of running things rather unethically. For example, Tesco are No. 1 on celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s hitlist when it comes to sustainably-caught tuna. And it’s no secret that most farmers are now losing money when it comes to selling their dairy products to these particular supermarkets, who want to sell it on at insanely low prices.

Walking around Danish supermarkets you always see a healthy selection of organic products, which are of course always a little more expensive, and more and more seem to be stocking sustainably-caught fish products. But unfortunately it doesn’t excuse the poor customer service that seems to take place in most stores. Below are some of the more common problems I encounter on a day-to-day basis (especially in Netto).

1) Items are stacked together in completely random places

“Excuse me, can you tell me where I might be able to find some sauce to make a Thai Curry with?”
“Have you tried with all the other sauces?”
“Yes, you have everything there except Thai Curry sauce.”
“Then we don’t have it.”

I later found several packets and jars of the sauce, side-by-side with some chocolate brownie cake mix, some plasters, and some olives! Also, in Netto in Valby there’s a whole row dedicated to beer and soft drinks, so why can the “good” ale, such as those from smaller breweries and foreign countries, be found next to the sweets several rows away?

2) Items being located in one area one week, then moved to a completely different area the next

“Excuse me, all of the cereal was stacked here last week, and the week before that, actually. Now all I can find are the porridge oats, so where’s the rest?”
“They’ve all been moved to the opposite end of the store next to the half-price DVDs and light-bulbs”
“Thank you.”

3) Not displaying the price. At all.

Supermarket Prices, Netto, photography by matthew james, pbmj, guinness, danish supermarkets

Can anyone tell me the what the price of these cans of Guinness are?

Some stores now have barcode scanners for you to go and find out the price yourself, you lazy skank!!

4) Making you pay full price for a discounted item

OK, so I mentioned this one briefly already. But if you never check your own receipts, how many times have you seen the woman or man in front come back in to the store seconds later, pointing at something on their own receipt? Thus, the check-out guy or girl then has to get someone over to go and investigate whether the discount exists or is just an urban legend created by the lying individual in front of them.

Recently I met a guy who was an ex-employee of Netto. When I told him of my observations he nodded in total agreement. “Most of it is done to encourage impulse buying or to buy a product anyway, even if you don’t know what it costs,” he told me. Interesting.

So choose your supermarkets wisely, foreigners. And always check your receipts.