In the yearly World Happiness Report, Denmark, along with its Nordic neighbours, continuously ranks in the top three spots. But what is it about the Danes that makes them so happy? “After three years, I still don’t really have an answer,” says Giulia Mangione, whose book Halfway Mountain seeks to uncover this very question.
Mangione started the project in 2014, as part of a photography course she was taking in at the prestigious Danish School of Media and Journalism. Her experience as assistant photo editor at Calvert Journal and interning at MACK Books had helped her “develop a taste for documentary photography” and photobooks, she says, and, after showing a dummy of her project to Corinne Noordenbos – a celebrated educator and former tutor of contemporary photographers such as Rob Hornstra and Viviane Sassen – she decided to expand on it.
Her first draft had been based on Danish traditions, but over the next three years Mangione started to photograph aspects of everyday life in Denmark instead, focusing in on themes that would eventually form the rhythm for the image sequence in the book. She was particularly drawn to twins, old people, nudity, and also hedges – and she spent a whole month exclusively photographing the latter.
Over a rainy summer in 2016, she bought a second hand car and set off on a two-month road trip around Denmark, stopping to stay on farms with families, or camp on nudist beaches. “Danish people are not ashamed of being naked,” she explains. “Even in everyday life, it is seen as a very natural thing.”
And while she hasn’t found any definitive answers to the question of Nordic happiness, after researching various studies on happiness, she says she suspects it’s due to the more equal class systems in Skandinavia. “I think people are happy because they don’t have many expectations,” she says, explaining that – because the distribution of wealth is more level – people spend less time comparing their own lot to others’, and more time appreciating the smaller things in life.
As such, her book ended up being about small elements of happiness that can belong to everyone, she says. “It’s really about humankind, not just the Danes.”
Halfway Mountain is published by Journal Photobooks, priced SEK 310 https://journal-photobooks.