Unpolished pictures of unpolished people in unpolished Copenhagen by Thorkil Brodersen

Unpolished pictures of unpolished people in unpolished Copenhagen

by Thorkil Brodersen

I felt that I just had to get up from the deep coach, when reading the article from 12. Aug. 14 by Howard Shooter, where he provoked by claiming that Copenhagen is spotlessly clean and beautiful, so are the buildings and even the people.

Therefore I just had to grab down in the picture-pile, to claim he is totally wrong.

Copenhagen, but I have only lived in it and close around it for about 45 years, is a living organism full of life and contrasts, but yes in this our highly praised welfare state, things are getting departed, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, and the middle class too. And the poor and “normal” people are getting pushed out of the center while this is getting more expensive, and objects of speculation.

But the city has its own life hidden in the old streets, the old areas, the old walls and the hidden places. You just have to dip your toes a step further down and under the surface. You have to avoid the fancy places. You just have to sense the atmosphere, give yourself time to go inside cityrooms, backyards and old bar’s

Taken with Ricoh GR and GRIV

Best, Thorkil









    • Hi Erik, ha-ha, yes indeed, dispite the lousy pictures 🙂
      Did post a political answer to # 11, but I guess Steve think its too political and he might be right.
      By the way, if you wanted to imigrate from a dirty Duisburg to the clean Copenhagen your first name will be a good start, it’s very commen here.
      But let me warn you: the language is very difficult and the humor can be very peculiar 🙂

  1. realize Im just an “American” but these are pictures of old men, shot at much too low an ISO … that’s all I see. If there is “character” here, in typical “American” fashion… I missed it

    if the author is looking to augur for Social Justice… then I really, really missed it…

    Maybe if I was EU I’d understand better

  2. Interesting shots. Perhaps you’ll be interested in the Flickr group “Provoke” – your photos have a lot in common with the japanese work of the late Sixties.

  3. I think these photo’s are representative of an idea looking for a convincing voice, but so far the language the voice uses could be Klingon for all I know.

    Being a bit ‘edgy’ needs a bit more than doing bad street photography to get the angst across. If it is out of focus or shaky then underlying that must still be a good photograph, contrasts are only contrasts if there is something to contrast with. That is what puts the power in any language and the photographic language isn’t any different. Irony doesn’t work if it is only a veneer, and these pictures are thin veneer at best, because the point has been lost in the interpretation, contrasty, out of focus, and shaky signifiers overwhelming any sense of what the pictures are supposedly about, which should be possible to read without a written explanation (other than maybe a title).

  4. Reading these comments reminds me of Monty Pythons old sketch, Four Yorkshiremen, where they keep saying ” you were lucky”…. Very entertaining.

  5. I come from the industrial city of Duisburg in Germany. If this is the unpolished side of Copenhagen then I would like to move to Denmark immediately 😉

  6. Frankly, the pictures leave me wondering whatever happened to editing! I would have binned the lot on the first pass, for being poorly exposed,out of focus and with poor composition. There may be some hidden meaning behind them which may appeal to some. Must be I come from a different school.On second thoughts maybe this was a deliberate attempt a provocation.

    • I couldn’t agree more!
      I just don’t understand the unstinting praise lavished on photographs like these.

    • My no.8 comment is still “awaiting moderation” for some reason, but I’ll try here anyway; David, I agree although no.1 shot is reasonable. But the last shot is beyond the pale and the others have one leg across that fence.

      Posting out of focus shots is not edgy or informative. What’s with no.2? Well equipped cyclist passes well-dressed gentleman on tidy street? Might be a well focused shot would have revealed much more, but who knows.

      How about no. 4. Senior lecturer in particle physics ponders recent paper disputing string theory, en route to Tuesday’s morning lecture?

      Or no.5: looks like the morning share trading has netted this guy another very handy profit, all in the warm ambience of a comfortable and rather expensive coffee shop?

      How am I going?

      • James, You made my day! Lovely sense of humour. Maybe we should brighten things up by posting the worst pictures we ever made with funny captions. Thanks for the laugh.David

      • It’s a Klein thing James (and d’Agata of course, but I’m sure you spotted that), can’t you see? Wot’s with the sharpness/in focus/composition/meaning??? obsession?

        Anyway, your well reasoned and almost poetic comment just gave that meaning, so a big thanks is winging your way.

        It’s a bit like the average art gallery vernissage (or the movie “Untitled”; hilarious): a lot of meaning is given, and the artist has his lips firmly shut. That’s how it should be.

        So I really like them!

  7. I must realize that our inner dictionary differ a lot from people to people, according to which circumstances each of us are living in, or figure at each ones retina, speaking of the word polished.
    My impulsive reaction and intension was only to protest against the label being put on the people living in Copenhagen as being “spotlessly clean and beautiful” (which in my dictionary means uninteresting, rich, boring, selfish etc).
    Times are changing, things are turning more uniform, the diversity is getting lost and normal to the poor are getting lost in the slipstream. That’s unfortunately right.
    My intention was not finding graffiti-soaked places(then I had to raise from the chair again), homeless and junkies to show the existence of those. And I know, compared to other cities, to “the leading country” (USA) UK and a lot of other (even “western”) countries we a swimming in liquid butter in Denmark.
    But my protest was only a claim that the diversity (thanks Good, else I would instantly immigrate to Sweden, but they might be even more clean, dam it) has a much broader and wider tension than claimed in the mentioned article.
    DJDLV has a strong point, photographing poor people. Its sort of stealing the last spot of dignity from people who has been brought in a very tragic state by a row of very unlucky events in their life’s, and then we go trying to use/”steal” it for our own aesthetic purpose. Not that there isn’t a good purpose in showing the raw society from its truth sides, a wake up call to those that ought to listen, or ought to do something about it. But they don’t.
    Picture one: I was sitting together with my carpenter-friend Kai (picture 3) and this guy came along and began to talk, he was the head-runner for the local Copenhagen election, representing the “Love and Anarchy-party” (didn’t knew such a one existed) and made excuses for being so dressed up, but he just had to, while he was going to a meeting with his spin-doctor….
    No Bobi-bar is not at all a fancy place (picture 5 & 7), but a little and very old hiding place for elderly artists, normal and unnormal people and people who just soaks a bit too much. And several excuses for too long shuttertime, but I love the colours
    And hi Michiel! Don’t where Kurt Thorsen has gone, but surely he went to prison. But he is one of those strange small persons who are able to do all the wrong things, with the most friendly smile in the world, and people were feeling good together with him. But I think the prison has limited his illusions and fantasy-projects.
    (ps. in short, not everyone in Copenhagen will bring you in a extremely bored state of mind)

    • Hi Thorkil! Kurt (I shook his hand twice some fifteen years ago) would make a wonderful subject for a Copenhagen reportage; in the vein of “Get Shorty”. Anyway, I never found Copenhagen spotlessly clean, let alone boring. You have to have your eyes wide open of course. Again, compliments on your take on Copenhagen!

  8. Just curious to know why you want to downplay a beautiful city? What is the drive? The typical negative Nordic ‘Jante’ attitude (“Don’t you think that you are someone och something special, keep in line, don’t acknowledge success”).
    Also the images leave me cold. Inspiration?

  9. I was thinking of sending a large food parcel, Thorkil, but changed my mind 🙂 These down and outers don’t look underfed, in fact very similar to some people here who will always be part of a small % who are never going to bother working.

    Denmark, as you say, has a “highly praised welfare state”; I’d suggest a little too much welfare which makes it a highly expensive place to be.
    It’s no bad thing for the economy to produce more wealth; a rising tide floats all boats, but it’s fantasy that income disparity is somehow unjust, what is unjust is some people demanding other people’s money for no effort, or crony access to the state’s coffers (subsidies for crap energy projects, for instance).

    You’re going to have to grit up, Thorkil, and ask those subjects to look more miserable..

    • Sorry I don’t agree (ought to avoid such a discussion, I know). My own experience in my own long life, is unfortunately that the more rich people become the more anti-social they become.
      And that system “when it rains on the priest its dripping at the audience”, doesn’t exist in praxis as a curing rule in any society.
      We always forget that we are all a product of the society, therefore you owe the society, unless it has punished you all your life.
      If a society gets divided, and the richer get richer and the poorer gets poorer, the society stops functioning as a united society, and the quality in the society definitely gets lower, its becomes more unstable, more risky for all to live in, much less nicer to live in, and the united common force in the society disappear or gets lower.
      So if we want a nice, pleasant and safe society to live for its entire people, we have to take care of providing a decent survival and a decent life for even the poor ones, so that they also can raise their children in dignity, and give them a decent chance in the community.
      So the community has to provide equal chances for each individual. And then there will only be one way, by taxes where the broadest shoulders are wearing the most. So if we want a nicer society all talk about tax lowering for the richest people and company’s must stop, because there will only be one group to pay for this in the common social obligation, and that is the poor ones.
      Best Thorkil

      • Thorkil and James: as I recently replied on Twitter to a tweet of a well known Dutch professor and publicist (Ewald Engelen) “Inequality surely is a bourgeois and obsolete concept”.

        Look at it from a philosophical point of view: how can there be good if we don’t know evil, beautiful if we don’t know ugly, affluent if we don’t know poor?

        I used to ride (bicycle racing) criteriums and I can assure you, there is always one rider at the front, if only briefly, and one rider at the back, maybe longer.

        I sincerely think that defining society by the gap between the back and the front is not getting anyone anywhere. Defining shared norms and values however will help in moving us forward.

      • Oops, sorry, didn’t know this had kicked on..!

        Have to disagree, Thorkil; no one (or me to be precise) is advocating abandonment of the poor (there might be very unfortunate reasons for being poor, illness, bad luck, genetics ..), but society is not strengthened by another set of self-entitled lazy sods demanding other people’s money for nothing in return. They say democracy is doomed because this set eventually grows in size and will only vote in the corrupt who promise them “free stuff” in return for power. Sound familiar?

        Now, in Australia, unless there are genuine health/disability (much abused) or age reasons, welfare payments will have to worked for. And the recipients may have to shift locations.

        I think Michiel made some very realistic points. Inequality is biologically inevitable.However, when it is envy dressed up as a lack of social justice its corrosive effects are dire indeed.

        I guess I’d make a bad photographer of the poor; I’d not want to shoot the unlucky or excuse the lazy. Certainly, if the poor are oppressed then that is another matter.

        (Hope this makes the post 🙂

  10. To be honest these pictures leave me completely cold. I don’t really see any deeper meanings in them, they look like random snapshots in the streets. Now I don’t mind that, but I fail to see the connection to the big claims that precede them.

    The first one captures the viewer’s attention somewhat because the guy is looking straight into the camera. But he looks like a normal guy wanting to ride his bicycle, so what exactly is special about him? That he stopped for a photo? The second image has a great aesthetic, but at the same time it doesn’t really show anything at all – two generic people from behind. The third seems to be a snapshot of a friend, the fourth opens up all kinds of possible interpretations – but it might just be someone crossing the street minding his own business.

    I like the fifth image the most, it’s very athmospheric. But that place could just as well be one of those fancy places that you distance yourself from in your text. The sixth again feels like just some street shot, and the seventh … looks like the shutter was open too long.

    Now I don’t wanna sound harsh, those pictures are fine for what they are. But you’ve introduced them by disagreeing with another photographer and describing a Danish subculture that I can’t detect in them. Unpolished is only the style that you deliberately went for (a.k.a. overprocessing, kind of contradicting the definition of “unpolished”). As far as I can see, these pictures don’t show anything that contradicts Howard’s impressions of a very clean city. Yes, there are parts of Copenhagen that aren’t quite as spotless (IMO Denmark is the dirtiest of the Scandinavian countries), but compared to most other big cities, Copenhagen is pretty damn polished. I’m from Berlin, and the difference is night and day! And of course there’s poverty as well, Copenhagen isn’t paradise. But again, *comparatively* you guys seem to score pretty well! And that’s something that your photos *do* show: everyone seems to be quite content, and the city doesn’t appear to be in bad shape at all.

    • I agree with you. I’m sure every city has its “dark side”, but there are cities and cities.
      In my moderated comment (why?!) I made example of “my” beautiful Venice, where tourists are obviously amazed by the buildings and the only thing they notice is the crowd, the hot weather in summer and the stinky water.
      They miss the rats running along the streets at night, tourists peeing in corners and their children inside trashcans, trashcans covered by trash from afternoon until dawn, when public service tries to clean the streets (but not on Sundays…), beatles and bugs swarming out from ancient stones of ancient churches, fake beggars and fake homeless sitting in the middle of the streets and near monuments, and the list could go on..

      • Marco, I just have to tell that Venice is the city I just adore and love, and being there its simply all about getting under the skin, getting away from the main-points and get lost in the simple back-stage tresures, where the commen people are living. I’ve perhaps walked the city in a total of perhaps 6-7 weeks, and is just slowly beginning to feel confidential to some of the areas…and you never get tired of exploring it, it will paitently wait for you, if you are paitient enough. What a special place.

        • That’s true. My fiancée lives there and I’ve learnt to walk every narrow and hidden street, appreciating the mysteries and legends. At a certain point the iconic scenery can be boring. 😉

    • To be honest too – these pictures are just boreing – I mean unpolished boreing !
      I can´s see anything interesting. The most are even out of focus or complete unsharp.

  11. Nice photos for sure. Sadly there are too many places to count in the UK you can not take photos on the street as people are so edgy and would not think twice to assault you and break/steal your camera. Its a sorry state of affairs that I have to pick and choose the places i can document.

  12. Thorkil, love this post and the images! Touch of Antoine D’Agata here and there. The Danes have a great sense of humour. How’s Kurt Thorsen doing these days?

  13. Dear Thorkin,

    thank you for sharing these pictures. I have to tell you though that what you are showing us can still be referred to as “spotlessly clean” by most of the world’s standards. I am from Germany and have since immigrated to the United States and I can tell you that what might be considered “gritty” in Northern Europe doesn’t even come close to what you will see in any big US city or remote rural area. And we are still talking about a first world country here. Now I know that things aren’t perfect and that there is poverty and suffering everywhere in the world, but a trip to the Magnum website is a good reminder how good life is for many of us.

    Anyways, still thank you for another set of photographs from one of the most pristine cities in the world.

  14. I should send some pics of tourists peeing inside trashcans in Venice, or the garbage you can see around from afternoon ’till dawn, or again the rats running along the narrow streets at night, or again, the swarms of cockroaches crawling out from the ancient stones of some ancient church… Ah, Venice, such a beautiful place!.. 😉

  15. You’re not fooling us Thorkil! Looking past your grainy B&W process I could not see a single piece of trash or graffiti in any of the shots. That place really IS polished! Even that dog is perfectly behaved, obviously gently pulling the roller skate wearing owner judging by the tension on the leash.

    • Just watch Nicolas Winding Refn Trilogy ” PUSHER ” and it will be clear that Copenhagen is not at all a polished city !!! But you can also go to Copenhagen, spend a week and you will understand that Copenhagen is NOT AT ALL ” spotlessly clean and beautiful, so are the buildings and even the people. “

      • Hell yeah. I’ve seen Bay Watch, and there’s no way any L.A. boy gonna come her and tell us WE have polished cities. My momma didn’t raise no fool.

  16. Okay, these sidewalks look like they have recently been Hoovered. But good photos all the same.

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. My words and images were meant to be complementary as opposed to cities like Marrakech and many other cities like Havana which are obviously poorer and visibly less Westernised. I wasn’t trying to sum up the entire city in one weekend but instead saw it through my own tourist eyes. Incredible that some people can take objection to my words about how nice and clean the city was. Maybe I should have said that although I saw some beautifully designed areas of Copenhagen the actual city obviously has some really awful parts to it…. As a tourist I had no intention of looking for the grubby areas of a city…. There’s no pleasing some people….! Check out my photos of Havana to see what I mean… compared to this the area (even in your shots) is in contrast very polished. http://www.howardshooter.com/projects/travel/Cuba#/0

    • I might have overreact Howard, compared to your intentions 🙂
      Some of your Cuba-ones are very nice!

    • Pretty crazy to me that ‘spotlessly clean and beautiful’ can be construed as an insult.

      And says a lot more about the listener when his ‘dictionary’ interprets ‘spotlessly clean and beautiful’ to mean ‘uninteresting, rich, boring and selfish’. I guess the next time I enjoy a city, I should compliment the host by telling him his city is ‘filthy, ugly, and full of trash and homeless people.’ That should ensure another invitation to visit!

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