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Mads Nissen, a Danish Documentary Photographer Essay (Biography)

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2022


Mads Nissen is a Danish photographer who has won several awards because of his talent in photography. He started photography at a very young age and he has developed his act over the years that he has been taking photographs. Mads has been focused on press photographs and he has won awards with photographs covering different events and capturing different moment (Lauridsen 23). His talent in photography was more developed because of his love for journalism.

He started taking pictures and photos that were fit for journalism purposes and he perfected his act by doing a lot of photographs and capturing the moments that have brought him good fortune and fame in the journalism industry. He has become famous for some of the best photographs ever taken in the world and has expressed a lot of stories and emotions through his photography all around the world


Mads Nissen is Danish who was born in Denmark in the year 1979. He studied Spanish when he was a child and engaged in voluntary work when he was in Venezuela. This helped in nurturing his talent and his desire of being a photographer. This is because he used to take photos where he volunteered.

He went ahead to work on personal photographic projects in South America and Ghana and thereafter finished a three year course on education. His passion for journalism was burning and he decided to join the Danish school of journalism in a course of photojournalism (Lundelin 45). He graduated with a distinction he attended the joop swart master class.

This class is usually organized by the world press photo annually and it has gained recognition from all over the world as one of the biggest events in photojournalism and photography in general. The goal of this class is to bring together several individuals who have good qualifications and experience in photojournalism with young and promising photographers who wanted to share their knowledge and also learn from the experienced people (Word Press Holland Foundation 12).

Mads participated in this annual seminar so that he could nature his talent and experience and also gain more experience and knowledge that could put him in the right direction in his career life. He then moved to Shanghai China to document the social and human consequences of the economical changes in the environment of China (Merian 56).

While in China, he worked for famous publications such as Time and Newsweek before returning home where he decided to be base himself. He is now in Denmark working for the Danish national newspaper which is called Berlingske (Lundelin 54). He is however continuing with his personal projects which are long term in nature because of the constant demand for his work by personal contractors and also because of his personal goals and desires.

Mads has majored on contemporary issues in the society such as poverty, overpopulation and global warming. Most of his works have been directed towards these categories of issues. He has helped in expressing the plight of the minority groups in the society and also in championing of human rights of the people all over the world. This he has done through his photographs that show the human rights violations and how human beings are engaged in activities that destroy nature (British Journal of photography 32).

Nissen’s work has been appreciated all over the world and has been in high demand for several photograph exhibitions and other exhibitions related to photography such as art exhibitions and journalism exhibitions. His photographs have been exhibited mostly in Europe and in Bangladesh. He has also won several awards both in Denmark and in other parts of the world.

Among the prestigious award ceremonies that he has been nominated or has won an award are the Manuel Rivera Ortiz foundation for international photography that were recognizing the hard work and talent of photographers all over the world so as to help in developing more the Manuel Rivera Ortiz foundation which is for aspiring young artists. He has also won a prize in the world press photo in the daily life picture story category.

He has also won several prizes in different categories in the Danish press photo of the year award ceremonies. Among the categories that he graced were the best multimedia, photographer of the year, best foreign picture story, best foreign news picture story and news picture of the year (British journal of photography 65). He has also won awards in the POYI awards in the categories of photographer of the year and issue reporting picture story category.

Nissen has had several works that have won awards or have sought a lot of audience. Some of his works include the Libyan Revolution pictures which were photo stories of how Gaddafi put Libya under constant war because of his refusal to step down from the presidency seat. Another work of Nissen is the fallen. This was a piece of work that consisted of different collages.

Nissen was working with the relatives of the fallen soldiers to make collages of the private pictures of the fallen soldiers. This work was so influential because it showed the private and intimate life of soldiers (Nissen 102). These photographs were so sentimental to Nissen because of their value and the message behind it and he has them exhibited next to his own photographs. Fever Gold was also among the popular photographs of Nissen.

The photos were telling a story about the gold mines in the Amazon Forest in Brazil. The photos showed how innocent poor Brazilians would camp at the mine for long hours just to get a means of survival. This photo won a prize for showing and expressing the need for creating of better employment opportunities in Brazil and in developing countries.

The photos also showed the harsh conditions in which the workers were subjected to and how they had several wounds on their bodies from the mines. The photos showed how the rights of the Brazilians were violated by being subjected under the harsh conditions (Newsweek 11). The photos also won a prize because it could identify with many people in developing countries who were subjected to such conditions and it appealed to many humanitarian organizations all over the world.

His other work was the overpopulation in Manila. These photographs showed how Manila is overpopulated with too many people who are fighting over too little space. The photos were full of so many people and children just to show how much the population was increasing at a high rate in Manila and yet there was no space being created. Another one of his works was Oumas wedding-child marriages in Niger.

Nissen was trying to tell the story of the increased incidences of child marriages in Niger (Livingston 37). The story behind the photographs was that in Niger, every three out of four females are married before the age of eighteen. The marriages are usually arranged between the parents of the girl and her future husband.

The photographs that Nissen took on this story covered the story of a specific girl in Niger called Ouma. The pictures showed Ouma’s wedding as a second wife to a man almost twice her age. Several non governmental organizations have concluded that the issues of Child marriage and several other problems that are faced in Africa such as poverty and illiteracy are part of Africa’s dilemmas (Newsweek 21). Nissen was trying to explore the dilemma of child marriage since he is focused on expressing dilemmas in Africa and all over the world.

Another work of Nissen is in the name of Victoria. These photos were of an eighteen month old orphan from Nepal who was born with several defects at birth. The photographs showed how the baby girl was lying in a hospital room alone and waiting to die because the medical staff had no way of helping her.

This photo first appeared in Berlingske in September (Newsweek 22). The story behind the photographs was that of a little girl who had just been born and doctors in Nepal left her for death even though the condition could be treated in the West. Danish business executive was highly affect ted by the photo and decided to help the little girl. She named the girl Victoria to mean victory and made arrangement for the operation of the girl but she later died from heart failure.

These photographs won the third prize in the word press photo awards. The photos were taken to show the nature of the medical centers and how incompetent and uncaring they are towards extreme medical cases (British journal of photography 76). The girl in the pictures had extreme medical conditions but it was possible to treat or correct the conditions.

The medical center just decided to ignore the possibilities of trying to correct the conditions and they left the girl to die. The photo has drawn a lot of media attention both to the medical center and to the photographer. Nissen captured different moments of the girl while in the hospital alone, when she was with her rescuer and when she was under operation. The photographs of Victoria won an award because of the intensity of the photos and how the photographer captured the moment precisely.

Just a look at the photo would give you the mood and the setting of the place and the person in the photo (Nissen 23). Nissen also brought out the peacefulness of the girl in the photo. This is considered great work because only a good photographer can capture good moments in a photograph and exploit the mood and setting of that moment in a photo.

This particular work of Nissen on Victoria has a little difference with his other works. This peace of work is very special and catchier than all the other works. It brings out different emotions to the person viewing the photograph. At one point the photographer brings out emotions of concern and pity to the young girl who is left to die. At another point the photographer tries to bring out the peacefulness if the child while she is laying in the hospital bed alone.

The photographs show how peaceful the child is not aware of its fate in the future and just waiting for anything to happen to her. These mixed expressions and portrayals helped to invoke different emotions in people. Some felt pity for the child, some felt nothing and thought that the child should just die while others were deeply touched for example the business executive who was highly touched and resorted to helping the young girl.

This photo helped to show the difference in societal values and personal values for example the difference between the values of the doctors who left the child to die and the business executive who saw a possibility of a cure and resorted to help the child.

Nissen also helped in exposing the bad practices of doctors in Nepal such as leaving a patient to die without even trying other measures or consulting with other doctors from other parts of the world. The photographers solicited a lot of media attention from all over the world and it is part of the reasons why the piece was nominated for the world press awards and it went ahead to win the coveted prize even though it was a third price

The practical and theoretical framework in which the photographer was working in had a great impact in his photographs. Practically Nissen is working in Denmark and he is currently working for a big journalism firm. Because of his classical pieces, awards and international recognition, he has been trusted to do all the assignments that cover the contemporary issues and dilemmas of the society.

This way he has been able to cover several stories because he is always being sent on assignments in different countries and he is able to relate to the people there and cover stories through his photographs which he can take freely because of the relationship that he has with the people in those countries. Theoretically Nissen has worked on several classical pieces that have caught so much attention.

This way he has gained experience and confidence and he has been able to take on more stories and share it with the world through photography. Nissen also has special and personal assignments which helps him to build his experience more and be able to be better at his work. The work is produced under little pressure and at a lot of comfort and a free environment. This has ensured that the work is well done without any pressure at all and that the viewers of the photos can view them easily and comfortably too

Works Cited

British journal of photography, Volume 156. New York: Henry Greenwood & Co., Ltd. 2009

British journal of photography. Volume 156. New York: Henry Greenwood & Co., Ltd. 2009. Web

Lauridsen, Esther. Second evaluation of an international series of Melina provenance trials. Boston: DANIDA Publishers. 1995. Print

Livingston, James. Driving force: the natural magic of magnets. Harvard: Harvard University Press. 1996. Print

Lundelin, Kari. World Press Photo 08. California: Thames and Hudson. 2008. web

Merian, Volume 61. Denmark: Hoffmann und Campe. 2008. Print

Newsweek, Volume 151. China: Newsweek, inc. 2008. Web

Nissen Mads. Rapport for indsamling af plantemateriale i NV-Amerika: efteråret 1991. Denmark: Arboreret i Hørsholm. 1992. Print

The Author’s & writer’s who’s. California: Burke’s Peerage, Ltd. 2007. Web

Word Press Holland Foundation. World press photo. Holland: Haagse Gemeentemuseum. 2010. Web

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