Mads Nissen




AMAZONAS is a raw and lyrical journey into the world’s largest rainforest. The intense documentary photographs lure you inside the uncanny wilderness, where gold-diggers, warriors, homosexuals in exile and isolated indigenous tribes collide on the threshold between nature and culture, instinct and reason, our origin and our future.

AMAZONAS is my personal encounter with the rainforest and the people living there. For more than six years and on month-long trips, I’ve been working on this personal project from which I here show you a selection.

AMAZONAS is dedicated to the place that enthralled my heart. To the Amazon I admire, fear and fear for.




Mads Nissen (1979)
Intimacy and presence are key words in my pictures that focus on the great challenges of our time, such as overpopulation, poverty and the relationship of humans to nature. In 2012 my work received five first prizes at the annual Danish Picture of Year, among these the prizes for Photo of the Year and Photographer of the Year. Over the years my work has received 14 prizes at the Danish Picture of the Year and internationally it has been awarded the World Press Photo and Picture of the Year and participated in the WPP Joop Swart Masterclass. I worked freelance for two years in Shanghai, China, and am currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark working with long term personal projects.


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Mads Nissen


19 thoughts on “Mads Nissen – Amazonas”

  1. Yes, fantastic and even more importantly I have seen a side of the Amazon that I wasn’t aware existed.

  2. Great stuff! The quality this year from the top essays is brilliant. A modern version of Salgado equally intimate and sharp eyed and visually fresh.

  3. I began viewing this essay with trepidation. I like the first photo, but on its own it was nothing too special. The second I though so, so. But the third, fourth and fifth gave me great hope that this work would rise above the rest, that it would be about something important, perhaps the inundation of modern trash/trinkets into the lives of native Amazonians; that it would tell some kind of coherent story. Then there were landscape pics, animals, sex and booze, mining/industrialization/worker exploitation, and a few random Bolivians. I thought many were very well-made photographs. But I was very disappointed that I could discern no unifying vision; no overarching story. It seemed like a host of story possibilities that were aborted before they were fully born. Basically a hodgepodge of dramatic photos taken in the Amazon for the sole purpose of taking dramatic photos.

    Like Paul, I too thought of Salgado, particularly Otras Americas and Workers, but what I see fails to communicate anything like Salgado’s depth of understanding and vision. Although Salgado is not a narrative storyteller, his passion for storytelling and his deep knowledge of his subjects and the socio economic stresses that press upon their lives shine through his photographs and give them that unifying vision and coherent story that so much other work lacks. Salgado doesn’t just show what wherever he goes looks like. He has a grand vision that he conscientiously communicates through photographs. He is a storyteller. He is a teacher. Not an illustrator.

    Yea, yea, I can see the argument that criticizing something as “not Salgado” may be a tad bit unfair. And perhaps 25 photos is just too few to make any kind of judgement about vision or story. Perhaps all of those stories that appear aborted in this essay are more fully fleshed out in the larger work. I hope, and expect, that is the case.

    But still, even assuming that to be so, that this small edit doesn’t begin to represent the project as a whole, I’m still afraid there may be too many stories and that by trying to tell them all, the project may be telling none at all. Or one as un-enlightening as “Look where I’ve been!” Maybe this is a a good problem to have. Too much definitely beats too little. Definitely an editing challenge though. But foremost a philosophical challenge.

    Or perhaps all this aspires to be is a simple illustration of what the place looks like. Maybe that’s enough. Just about any of those photos would be great accompaniment to someone’s magazine article about one of those subjects. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that the statement hints at something more grand. And the quality of the photography hints at the possibility of achieving it. But if the project is going to ascend to that rarified air, it has to answer, or at least suggest some answers, to the question: what does all of this mean?

    Shifting gears a bit, I’m a bit disturbed by questioning what a particular part of the story means. The sequence in which photos of what appear to be prostitute bars in Iquitos, a notorious sex tourist destination, is followed by what appears to be a picture of an adolescent prostitute in a bed in a notorious boom town in Brazil. Given the lack of a discernible story, it raises the question of whether the photographer is doing a story about sex tourism or simply doing sex tourism. I trust it’s the former as I don’t doubt that prostitution, including underage prostitution, is part of the Amazonian landscape and could well be an important part of the story; but lacking more context, more sense of meaning and vision, it’s left open to other interpretations.

    Going back to Salgado, I think he is a great influence and well worth emulating. I do, however, think it’s infinitely more valuable emulating his intellectual approach to photography than what his photographs themselves look like, much less his itinerary. Bring more of that intellectual approach to this project, see something in Amazonia that only you have so far discerned but that we would all be better off understanding, and this could be a truly great work. Not bad as is. Not bad by a long shot. It’s just that it’s good enough to want better.

  4. I’m of two minds viewing this series. On first viewing I was disappointed. It left me a bit flat. I wanted colour. I was confused, is this supposed to be documentary, or fine art? What is here hints at a larger body of work, but as presented, seems a bit random and in-consistent. There are some powerful images, and some that don’t quite make the mark.
    Congratulations Mads. I hope to see more.

  5. Some years ago I read the Javier Reverte´s book “El Río de la Desolación” about a trip he did along the Amazonas river, form Peru to Brazil. He is a writer and journalist who have travelled around the world, and that was the hardest trip for him… In these pictures, I´ve seen part of what I read in that book…
    Congrats for the work.

  6. I completely agree with Jim, Amazing, Impressive photography!
    Wonderful edit. The merging of fine art and documentary.
    Don’t listen to the blowhards!

  7. Hello Everyone

    First of all many thanks for taking the time to look at – and sharing your thoughts – about my work AMAZONAS.

    Taking pictures can be extremely hard, frustrating and lonely sometimes (for me at least, I must admit), but reading your comments is really encouraging… Thanks a lot!

    A few words on your critic MW:
    Some of the things that you miss in this website-edit of just 25 images I actually miss too :) AMAZONAS is first of all a photo book (was released on June 14th. 2013) and cutting the work down from it’s original 132 images and 9 essays to this websites format is not done without compromises.

    The book is 192 pages, divided into chapter where each one takes you on a journey to a different place inside The Amazon.

    For example: 1 essay and aprx. 14 pictures is from the biggest illegal goldmine in South America (you get an idea of that story here Another chapter – or story if you like – is about The Chimanes nomads where we walk day after day 6 men, 3 women and 14 children with (next to) no food, water or shelter. This story has 11 pictures + another of my essays. So what you are looking for might actually be in the original presentation of the work – the book. Making this edit I had a choice: To present just one of the stories or to give you guys an appetizer for the project as a whole. I choose the last option.

    That said my work AMAZONAS has never meant to be a piece of classic journalism criticizing (or romanticizing as I think Salgado does in his latest work from Amazonia) this or that. Many of my other stories are more journalistic, more narrative or just more easy to understand than this work. Pls. see my story on Victoria for example:

    To me AMAZONAS is a personal journey into a place that I admire, fear and fear for -with all it’s confusion and contradictions. And I love to invite along:

    Very best, Mads

  8. Mads, I liked the essay (and the stuff on your website) because it wasn’t pretentious crap that looked like an advertisement from an NGO. There were certainly some images that could be turned into pretentious crap by an NGO (and hopefully one will buy some stuff from you for that purpose to fund your work); but, I didn’t sense that this was anything but a personal project. I like it.

  9. Hi Mads,

    First of all, great work and congrats. I hope your “fear for” the Amazon stays just that.

    Reading your comment something jumped up at me. You say you think Salgado romanticizes the Amazon…..
    I have to disagree.
    He has done and it’s doing something concrete. He has moved from the abstraction (if you will) of just taking photographs and has actually acted upon his beliefs.
    I hope your work brings awareness but I think planting tress as Salgado has done is a more practical and urgent solution.

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