Award-winning Danish photographer Joachim Ladefoged has worked as a professional photographer since 1991 and has been a member of the international VII Photo Agency since 2004. When he’s not doing dramatic portraits or photo essays for magazines including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Newsweek and TIME, or advertising jobs, he focuses on personal projects.
In 2000, he published his first book, Albanians, about the turbulent life of the Albanians between 1997-1999. At VII, he has contributed to three major book projects, Tsunami: A Document of Devastation, Forgotten War: Democratic Republic of the Congo and the recently released Questions Without Answers (Phaidon), featuring photo essays from 11 of the pioneering photo agency’s members. In February 2008, Ladefoged released his second book Mirror (Ajour), an unusual look at the world of bodybuilding that features color portraits and black-and-white action shots from competitions in Scandinavia in which he uses light to delineate these human sculptures.
What becomes obvious when perusing the myriad publications that bear his photo credit is that Ladefoged has a remarkably diverse collection of photo essays and portraits on a wide array of subject matter. Whatever is in front of his lens, however, is always captured with the same intensity of a critical photojournalist’s eye.
DPP: How did your wide-ranging approach to photography come about?
Joachim Ladefoged: Shooting the same thing all the time bores me. I come from a newspaper background where you have to cover a variety of assignments. I got an internship when I was 21 at a local newspaper named Ârhus Stiftstidende shooting up to six assignments a day—portraits, reportage, soccer every weekend, handball in the winter. But it started before that. When I was 16, I developed arthritis. I had wanted to become a soccer player and was living at a sports school. So when I got ill, I got a camera and started taking pictures from a wheelchair of the sports that I couldn’t do anymore. After a year with the camera, I found that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
DPP: Did you then study photography formally?
Ladefoged: No, but in Denmark, we have these folk schools, and I had a teacher who introduced me to the work of all these great Magnum photographers—Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa—so I got interested in reportage. My mother was very socially orientated so I got interested in telling stories with my camera about social issues. My dream was to become a Magnum photographer, but I was 21 and still sick. I could never have dreamt that I would be where I am these days, but I started to get better very slowly using herbal medicine.
DPP: How did you go from shooting for a local newspaper to where you are now?