Peter Holliday: Edgelands

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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 second in the series.

“Copenhagen is one of the few cities in the world where you can build and test rockets in a car park.” Peter Holliday is referring to a stretch of tarmac situated on the northern tip of Amager East, an island neighbourhood just a short bike ride away from central Copenhagen. This vast industrial area is the perfect setting for artists’ studios; its close proximity to the water makes it an ideal place to launch rockets. Copenhagen Suborbitals, the world’s only amateur space programme, has been based in the area since its founding in 2008. Funded solely by donations from space and rocket enthusiasts around the world, to date, the organisation has launched four home-built rockets and space capsules from a ship in the Baltic Sea. Its ultimate aim? To fly an amateur astronaut into space and safely back again.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is one of several locations that Holliday, a Scottish photographer who is currently studying at Aalto University in Helsinki, photographed while on commission in the city. Tasked with creating a photographic portrait of the Danish capital, Holliday chose to explore and document the aspirations of the city, manifest in the people that live and work there. “I am seeking to document the man-altered landscape while investigating the human ideals and aspirations latent within Copenhagen’s peripheral spaces,” he says, “sites where the utopian visions of mankind converge with the wild and untamed.” Copenhagen Suborbitals fits this concept perfectly. “I immediately thought that it was both crazy and incredible in its ambition and enthusiasm,“ says Holliday. “There is a sense in Copenhagen that aspirations are limitless and you can achieve anything.”

Kalvebod Fælled is a vast nature reserve that takes up roughly one quarter of the island of Amager. © Peter Holliday

Such freedom is a draw for creatives all over the world. “It’s virtually impossible to get permission to do it [launch rockets] from the ground in any other country,” boasts Copenhagen Suborbitals on its website. Jop – one of 55 current members, and the subject of one of Holliday’s portraits – moved to the city from the Netherlands just two years ago. “He is basically living in Copenhagen because of Copenhagen Suborbitals.” says Holliday. Like the majority of members, Jop has a day job. Rocket building takes up most of his spare time.

Holliday spent several hours with Jop, taking his portrait and exploring the space. “I enjoy spending time with people before photographing them,” says the photographer. “A portrait needs context, or else you could be photographing anyone. By talking to someone their face becomes associated with a lived experience.” Holliday employed a similar approach when photographing boatbuilder Jørgen, another individual operating within Copenhagen’s peripheral spaces. Working out of a warehouse in Nordhavn –  a harbour area in north-east Copenhagen – Jørgen is currently constructing a 14-metre-long carbon fibre boat. Jørgen mostly works single-handedly, having learnt the basic skills from his father, and has been perfecting his craft in Copenhagen for more than 30 years.

Jørgen in his warehouse space in Nordhavn, a harbour area in north-east Copenhagen. © Peter Holliday

Aside from portraits, Holliday also explored peripheral spaces within Copenhagen’s urban environment. In order to do this, he traversed the city almost exclusively by bike. “It is a really good way to see Copenhagen,” he says. “It also helped with the time constraints of the commission. Because I have chosen to look at a broad area, cycling allows me to reach far away places quickly.” Holliday is not alone in his preferred means of transport: an abundance of cycle lanes and a collective environmental conscience means that Copenhagen is a city of bikes. On an average weekday, cyclists in Copenhagen clock up 1.4 million km.

Holliday was immediately drawn to Christiania Freetown, a semi-autonomous commune nestled in the geographic heart of the Copenhagen. For the photographer, this peripheral urban space epitomised the aspirations of the city. “Christiania,” writes Holliday in the journal he kept while in Copenhagen, “reveals an alternative and free way of living in the heart of Copenhagen’s cosmopolitan sprawl.”  

Christiania Freetown is a semi-autonomous commune nestled in the heart of the Copenhagen. © Peter Holliday

The commune was founded in 1971 when a small free-spirited community claimed a deserted military barracks and developed their own society, independent of the Danish government. Today it is home to almost 1,000 residents who continue to live by many of its founding ideals. Stretching over 84 acres, Christiania is home to an assortment of riverside homes. Their unconventional designs capture the imagination and creativity at play in Copenhagen. “Built on ancient earthwork fortifications constructed centuries ago to defend the city, Christiania,” says Holliday, “provides a poetic metaphor of the link between the city’s past at its future ambition.” 

When Holliday entered Postcards from Copenhagen, he proposed a project that would explore the human ideals and aspirations latent within Copenhagen’s peripheral spaces. Through the combination of portraits and landscapes, shot within the city’s unassuming and lesser-known sites, Holliday presents an alternative portrait of Copenhagen. “A place where ambition can be realised and where the collective vision of humanity reaches a state of cohesion,” the photographer concludes. “A balance between mankind and nature.”

Josh and Elliot at Copemhagen’s Under Broen (under the bridge) skatepark. © Peter Holliday
“Christiania provides a poetic metaphor of the link between the city’s past at its future ambition.” © Peter Holliday
Kalvebod Fælled. © Peter Holliday

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.