Photojournalist Mads Nissen

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / June 30, 2021

“I love when I really feel I make a difference”

(Courtesy of Mads Nissen)

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

Mads Nissen: It was almost like a revelation – an enlightenment. I was 19 years old studying in Merida, Venezuela. One day I went to photograph the daily life in the streets, and it just hit me – wow, with documentary photography I can really combine the three big passions I had in my life far: Social awareness - the desire to create change. Curiosity - on other people’s life. Creativity - as a way self express and connect with the world around me. This day today, that’s still the pillars of my work. And if I fell lost or disillusioned I’ll go back and re-connect with those same values.

Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favorite lens/camera?

Mads Nissen: The story comes first and the story chooses it’s camera, lenses, light and the specific visual approach that suits it. Never the other way around. My main cameras now are Hasselblad X1D, 45mm. and a Canon R5 (35mm+24-70mm.)

Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

Mads Nissen: I prefer to meet people face to face. But I’m on

Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?

Mads Nissen: Research, research, research. I’m the father of three kids (9+5 and new one in August 2021) so I really try to prepare my trips as well and tight as possible. I don’t want to be away more than necessary, so I really learnt how to get a lot out of very little time. It’s all about having the story clear in your head and making some really great schedules. Some students get a bit scared when I share some of my excel sheets with the many contacts, logistics, sources and appointments.

Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?

Mads Nissen: Empathy. For me photography is all about empathy - creating understanding, a closeness, an intimacy. I strive to build that connection while focusing on contemporary social issues such as inequality, human rights violations and our often destructive relationship with nature.

Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?

Mads Nissen: I count scenes. I count potentially good pictures when I’m out. I never count exposures or files. The Hasselblad is less, but otherwise I shoot a lot. For a normal portrait I can easily shoot 1000 frames. That will leave about 8 scenes and 6 good. Roughly.

Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

Mads Nissen: Just got back from a few days ago from the frontline between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatist. Amazing story of an extraordinary women I found. Natalia a volunteer fighting for her country, for the soldiers and against Russia and post-soviet bureaucracy. She is second-to-none!

Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?

Mads Nissen: The Climate Crisis is calling for all good photographers around the world. Join our forces and let’s try to save what saved can. Whether we are good or bad photographers matters less – what matters is our will to fight and make a change. Now. That’s my plan.

Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favorite? What makes them so special to you?

Mads Nissen: I’m most proud of my image when they combine goose-bumb-intimacy with hard core contemporary social issues. I mean; important stories, that you can really feel and relate to. Journalism needs to be personal.

Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?

Mads Nissen: Empathy.

(Courtesy of Mads Nissen)

Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?

Mads Nissen: Something for the eye (a drawing visuality), something for the brain (a dilemma, a challenging issue) and most important something for the heart and you FEEL rather than just SEE. Authenticity

Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?

Mads Nissen: The above that I just mentioned.

Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?

Mads Nissen: Documentary photography is such a gift on so many levels. Since I was 19 that’s what I’ve been during. I love that I can use my curiosity - that I am invited into other people’s intimate lives and the world history as it’s happening. I love the creativity. I love when I really feel I make a difference – changing the world to the better!

Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?

Mads Nissen: To not have fear of failure. But always try to listen to my self and do it my way. Regardless of editors, colleagues and writers. Good people, but in the end it’s your own idealism and vision that needs to carry it through!

Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?

Mads Nissen: Right now, holiday with my family. It’s been a crazy year. I covered covid-19 intensively in different places. Then the whole worlds press photo of the year thing, now the war in Ukraine - so I honestly just need a bit time of to stay with my family (and edit and answer emails)

Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?

Mads Nissen: Pressing the button is the easiest part. Even the exposure and focus the camera can do for you. Documentary photography has changed from being something that required technical skills, to be a question about what you like to say and how dedicated you are to say it. Hopefully in a touching and original way.

Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?

Mads Nissen: What-ever you like to do- do it. Just be open, transparent and honest. And call it what it is. In the kind of photography that I do it has no place at all. No place at all. It’s considered fake, a lie – cheating and disillusioning the story itself and your own audience.

Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?

Mads Nissen: To be an ethical human being (with a camera).

Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?

Mads Nissen: Not at all. The response I get from people from all over the world is completely overwhelming. Photography has probably never been stronger!

Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?

Mads Nissen: Hmmm….Most has been seen before – but not by you. Show me what you see- you feel – and don’t forget to documentary photography is about making a difference to other people. So don’t bother about being good – care about making Good.

Mads Nissen

Mads Nissen graduated with distinction from The Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2007. After graduating he moved to Shanghai to document the human and social consequences of China’s historic economic rise. Since 2014 he has worked as a staff photographer at the Danish Daily Politiken, a newspaper internationally praised for its strong commitment to visual journalism. In addition to Politiken, his images have been published in Time, Newsweek, CNN, National Geographic, The Guardian, Stern, Der Spiegel and many publication. He frequently gives lectures and workshop and has had solo-exhibitions across Europe and Latin America in such places as The Nobel Peace Center (Norway), The National Museum (Colombia), GAF (Germany), Frederiksborg Slot (Denmark) and Festival dela Fotografia Etica (Italy) His work has received more than 60 awards. He has published three photo books.