Postcards from Copenhagen invited three photographers – Marco Kesseler, Peter Holliday and Laura Stevens – to travel to Copenhagen over a long weekend and create a new body of work inspired by the Danish capital. Here, we publish the first in the series.
It is 10am on a Saturday morning in Copenhagen. For most, the weekend is only just starting. Photographer Marco Kesseler, however, has been up for several hours. At sunrise, while walking through Copenhagen’s Assistens Cemetery, he happened upon Jahmiel. A refugee, originally from Gambia, Jahmiel has aspirations of becoming a professional footballer. The two stop to talk for a while as Kesseler takes his portrait.
“I like the softer light of the early morning but I also find that dawn attracts a certain type of person,” says Kesseler, who shoots on medium format and digital. “There is a different pace at that time of day – people are less in a rush to get somewhere and happy to spend time with you.”
Several hours later, Kesseler heads to Amager, a large island neighbourhood situated south-west of central Copenhagen. You hear the local motocross club before you see it. At its entrance, weekend mechanics tinker with mud-splattered bikes while riders take a moment’s solace away from the course. It is here that Kesseler meets Mathilde, one of Denmark’s few female motocross riders. Mathilde is now 13-years-old and began riding off-road motorbikes at the age of four. Her father Joe has broken 18 bones as a result of the sport yet, accompanying Mathilde to all of her events, remains one of her most loyal supporters. This is their third motocross event of the week.
Just a ten-minute walk away from the track lies Amager Fælled Økohaver, a cluster of summer houses and allotments in which residents can grow and harvest produce. This particular site opened in 2010 and offers residents of Copenhagen the opportunity to lead a sustainable lifestyle while living in a city. Creativity is encouraged and a wonderful hodgepodge of summer house structures have materialised as a result. “It is interesting to see two very different communities living next door to each other,” says Kesseler. “People live a relaxed and wholesome lifestyle in this peaceful idyll yet, right next door, is a chaotic motocross track. As someone wanting to explore, you can find such diversity over a relatively short space of time and distance in Copenhagen.”
Natalie and her young son Pascal are working on their allotment plot when Kesseler arrives. “Economically it doesn’t make much sense,” says Natalie, an American academic who moved to Copenhagen in 2009, “but it is the act of doing it that appeals.” Leading an eco-friendly and sustainable way of life is important to residents of Copenhagen. Organic food makes up 17 percent of total food sales in the city and 75 percent of food served in public institutions is organic. Throughout his time in Copenhagen, Kesseler meets many more people who grow their own fruit and vegetables in allotments dotted around the city.
The Postcards from Copenhagen commission marks Kesseler’s first time in Copenhagen. He has chosen that his route through the city be guided by the Carlsberg Fault zone. An underground tectonic formation that runs through north-west and south-east Copenhagen, the line creates an invisible division across the capital. “It is an interesting tool to explore a new city – somewhere that I don’t know at all – and to see how it changes throughout,” says the photographer. “It has allowed me to see the city limits; right through to the centre and back out again.”
Kesseler graduated from Falmouth University in 2012 and now splits his time between London and south-west England. Narrative is central to Kesseler’s work and “a collaborative trust between subject and photographer” is crucial to his practice. Despite the time constraints of Postcards from Copenhagen, Kesseler made an effort to speak with each person that he photographed. “I would much rather try to get to know someone and understand them as a person,” he says. “That way I can create a more honest representation of who they are.”
While in Copenhagen, Kesseler’s approach is one of precision and persistence. He returns to several locations during his time in the city to ensure that he gets the perfect shot. His reasoning changes according to the subject matter. Sometimes it is to make sure the lighting is just right, other times to see the dynamic of a place at a different point in the day. In his journal, Kesseler writes about shooting university horticultural greenhouses at dusk: ”Spotted on second day,” he writes, “but revisited today for better light.”
As the hours in the day go by, the characters that populate Copenhagen’s streets change. Kesseler is aware of this and each day he leaves for sunrise and does not stop photographing until sunset. The sun is shining and, on Dronning Louise’s Bro (which translates to Queen Louise’s Bridge) in central Copenhagen, crowds sit on the sizzling tarmac listening to music and taking in the views. It is here that Kesseler comes across a man, known only as DJ Hip Hop, playing music on a portable turntable. DJ Hip Hop owns a bike shop nearby and gives another man – known only as Superman – a crate of beer each month to keep a watchful eye on the shop. Elsewhere, in Superkilen, a sprawling public park in the Nørrebro district of the city, Kesseler comes across Leo who is exercising on a gymnastics bar. A former bike messenger and courier, Leo had just started a carpentry apprenticeship. His legs are covered in tattoos and for good reason: each time he cycles to a new country, he gets another one.
Danes are often reported to be the happiest people in the world, and Copenhagen the most liveable of cites. From Kesseler’s experience it would be hard to question otherwise. “It is a bit of a cliché that all Danes are happy but it is true,” he says. “I have found the city incredibly open, both in terms of the people that I have met and the locations I have been to.”
On the Saturday afternoon Kesseler meets a man and his son on a street corner. The encounter encapsulates the aforementioned sentiment perfectly. Usually it is Kessler that approaches his subjects but Imad, having spotted the assortment of cameras around the photographer’s neck, is keen to introduce himself. The man does not have a photograph of him and his son together and this is too good an opportunity to miss. Imad is originally from Palestine and medium format film reminds him of home. Kesseler takes their portrait and, despite Imad’s persistence, refuses a Capri Sun as payment. The man does not have an email address so instead Kesseler will post his photograph from England to Denmark. Kesseler’s postcard from Copenhagen.
Words Anya Lawrence
Postcards from Copenhagen is a British Journal of Photography commission made possible with the generous support of Wonderful Copenhagen. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.