Ladefoged: By starting to shoot my own stuff, not just local newspaper assignments. I moved on by coming up with my own reportage ideas. I started by doing a photo essay on local prostitutes. I went down to their little place in a basement shooting two times a week for half a year. This was in 1992. I knew this was the way I wanted to go, doing bigger stories in a much more in-depth and personal way. I also did a self-assignment on a wagon camp for homeless people living in Berlin over a two-year period.
DPP: These projects gave you a portfolio more in line with your photographic aspirations.
Ladefoged: It helped me move on to Politiken, the best national newspaper in Denmark. They started sending me out into the world on assignments to do longer stories, like going to Russia to cover the elections and Albania during the unrest there and staying for a week. This amount of time on one story was a luxury for me. This was a step in the right direction, but I still had daily deadlines. Even if I were in Albania, I would have to send back photographs every day.
DPP: Your work in Albania exposed your photography to the world.
Ladefoged: I revisited Albania twice at my own expense, including in 1997 when the riots started down there. Because of this story, I ended up being the first Dane to win the World Press Photo Contest. It showed me that the longer I stayed on a story, the better the results would be.
DPP: After winning the most important award in photojournalism, what steps did you take to move your career forward?
Ladefoged: I decided to leave Politiken and become freelance, then used my connections from the World Press Photo to join an agency in London. Then two years later, I joined Magnum.
DPP: You made your dream come true in a relatively short time.
Ladefoged: I had joined Magnum based on my black-and-white story from Albania. Then, after two years, I showed a totally different body of work. Some members were bothered by that. You know when you join Magnum that things might not work out, and it didn’t. Some photographers were forming VII, and they asked me to come onboard. I was very honest with them, saying I wasn’t a war photographer anymore. Because I had dealt with rheumatism, I knew I wasn’t bulletproof. I was 30, my wife and I decided we wanted to have a child, so I decided to never shoot war again. We now have three children.
DPP: But you continue to cover intense situations.
Ladefoged: I wouldn’t call it intense, at least not compared to working in a war zone. In 1996, when the Taliban took Kabul, I got caught in the crossfire there. That was intense. I’m still shooting strong reportage stories with VII in places such as the Congo and Sri Lanka.
DPP: Who have been your major photographic influences?
Ladefoged: When I became aware of photography outside of Denmark, I started looking at Gilles Peress and the way he shot Telex Iran. So I like to say that I’m inspired by the artistry of Peress, the humanity of Eugene Richards and the balls of Jim Nachtwey. I think I’m a mix between those guys, as well as Alex Webb because of his use of color and hard shadows.