An Intimate Look Into the Lives of Strangers

The Photo Blog
May 30 2013 8:15 AM

This Is What Happens When You Ask to Take a Stranger’s Photograph

Six Degrees of Copenhagen
Six Degrees of Copenhagen

Jens Juul

It might seem crazy to ask someone on the street if you can go back to their apartment to take their photograph, but that’s exactly how Danish photographer Jens Juul’s project was born. Juul began the series, “Six Degrees of Copenhagen” in his hometown by approaching a stranger with this intimate request. From there, he asked that person to put him in touch with a friend to take their photograph and so on. The rules were simple: The subjects had to live in Copenhagen, and they had to be shot in black-and-white.

Roughly 80 portraits later, “Six Degrees of Copenhagen” has not only provided a glimpse into a sample of Copenhagen residents, it has also given Juul some international attention: He recently won the 2013 Sony World Photography Award in the Portraiture category for the series.

Juul would spend roughly an hour with each person he photographed. “I visit them as a human being and talk to them like a human being [rather than as a photographer],” Juul said about his approach to the project. “I’m curious and want to listen to them and then around the last half-hour I start using my camera.”

Advertisement

Shooting the series in black-and-white was a choice that Juul said allowed him to get closer, both physically and emotionally, to his subjects.

Six Degrees of Copenhagen
Six Degrees of Copenhagen

Jens Juul

Six Degrees of Copenhagen
Six Degrees of Copenhagen

Jens Juul

Six Degrees of Copenhagen
Six Degrees of Copenhagen

Jens Juul

“When you are dealing with a portrait and … I get very close to people, and if you get very close, you have a lot of skin and with color it’s always pink or red and it gets very vulgar, so if you turn it black-and-white it’s like stepping away a bit, more classic. … I shoot very graphic black-and-white so the structure and texture of the pictures gets very strong and becomes a big part of the image itself.”

It is somewhat surprising how intimate the images in the series are, considering Juul barely knows the subjects before taking their portrait, but apart from listening to them, Juul feels that following their lead has been important when making intimate portraits.

“If you describe the project as a very sober project—I’m not trying to show more than they allow me to—they find it interesting and I always listen to their life stories and I’m always doing it in their home.”

“People usually know all kinds of people in their network: One guy could be a doctor, and he could have people living in the street in his network; you come across all kind of characters, and I can easily understand how we are all covered in our networks around the world.”

Although he has only been working as a professional photographer for a few years, Juul began his career as a portrait painter and a graphic designer. He said the camera has allowed him to realize a more personal art form.

“I love meeting people; I love to communicate and to listen to stories, and with the camera, it is a wonderful way to meet people,” Juul said.

Six Degrees of Copenhagen
Six Degrees of Copenhagen

Jens Juul

Six Degrees of Copenhagen
Six Degrees of Copenhagen

Jens Juul

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.