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ISH: A home away from home

‘If it feels right, it is right’

Mads Nissen, Awarding winning photographer visits Grade 11.

Last week, Mads Nissen, a Danish documentary photographer who has been the winner of the World Press Photo of The Year Award in 2015 and 2021 visited Grade 11 Language and Literature students virtually to deliver an inspiring and informative presentation on his work and his experiences. As a documentary photographer, he travels around the world to capture accurate and unstaged representations of people, places, objects and events, in a manner that reports a larger theme or story. In his presentation he focused mainly on his experiences documenting homophobia in Russia from 2013-2016, the civil war occuring in Colombia, and the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Brazil.

Nissen’s photography captures unique cultures and societies across the globe and thus aptly represents many of the Global Contexts that students are exposed to in the IB Middle Years Program and are reinforced during the DP curriculum. These contexts aid in framing the ways in which students perceive and process information, encouraging them to develop their individual paradigms. Similarly, in the IBDP Language and Literature curriculum, a part of the Internal Assessment that students complete is the oral assessment in which students are required to compare and contrast a non-literary piece with a literary piece that has been studied previously in class. Photography being a key style of non-literary expression that students commonly choose to analyze, hearing from the artist himself about his work and his opinions was a great help to many in gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of nonliterary expression.

Through his photographs and the stories that accompanied them, students were taken on a vibrant journey and virtually immersed in the various situations that Nissen had been able to beautifully capture. Especially in times where education has been made rather monotonous due to the constant shift between online and in-school learning, Nissen’s visit was a breath of fresh air and an opportunity for language and literature students to be first-hand exposed to another form of art in a more detailed and unique way and understand all the thought that goes into his photographs. On the more analytical side, Nissen explained some of the different lighting and angling that he had deliberately captured in a certain manner; for example Nissen highlighted how the shadows in the photograph below that was taken of homophobic protestors attacking a pride rally in Russia were reminiscent of the famous Banksy graffiti (shown below).

On the other hand, Nissen also emphasized that since none of his photographs are ever staged, the most important thing to him is to be in the moment rather than focusing on the composition and intellectualization of the art; telling us that “if it feels right, it is right”.

In Colombia he was able to photograph Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) at their military camps in the wilderness. When asked how he is able to gain access to such dangerous situations, he told us that the priority is to establish a relationship based on trust and respect with the people he is photographing, to have empathy for their situations and to honor their boundaries. To Nissen, photography is not only about capturing one particular situation, but being able to immerse himself into the culture by developing an extensive knowledge of the events and theme he intends to capture.

The virtual photography presentation was extremely valuable to students as they begin to work on their individual oral presentations and start exploring themes and the different non-literary works that they could possibly choose to analyze in alignment with the prescribed reading of their course.


Review by Anoushka Parmeshwaran. Photos by Mads Niessen.

Teacher organising the event: Charlotte Meyer zu Natrup