A human chain connected through varying levels of personal relationships takes starring role in Jens Juul’s 2016 Magnum Photography Awards’ portraiture series winner; “Six Degrees of Copenhagen“. Capturing raw moments of his subjects, Jens was able to present a unique kind of portrait series that allows viewers to look beyond the personalities of each of his subjects. Taking place in the city of Copenhagen – which would seem like an orderly and cosmopolitan city to most, the series offers a glimpse at the character of the city previously unknown to many, through the dramatic portraits Jens Juul has shot and compiled altogether.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

How did you come up with the idea for “Six Degrees of Copenhagen”?

Although the idea seems almost obvious in our age of social media, the notion first surfaced in 1929, when Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy wrote a short story called “Chains.” In it, he prophetically described how new ways of communicating and traveling had made the world shrink. All of a sudden, having acquaintances in other parts of the world became more common. Thus, Karinthy wrote, you could point to a complete stranger on the other side of the planet and realize you were no more than six levels of connection away by virtue of chains of friends.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

This was the basis for my project, “Six Degrees of Copenhagen.” I did not approach the idea scientifically, but rather saw it as an almost magical way to travel through the city and meet its inhabitants. So, each person portrayed here is part of a chain of acquaintances, simple as that. I began by approaching a stranger on the street and after photographing them, they recommended someone else in their network who I could portray in the same way.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

I like to photograph people whom I don’t know beforehand. It begins when I stop people in the street. Still, I like to have a context, some kind of story-line to follow. When I fell upon the intriguing thought that every person on the planet is connected by, at most, the sixth degree, I had what I needed.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

Have you ever shot a similar series taken from other cities?

No, all my projects have been taking place in Copenhagen, or in the suburb. You don’t have to go to war zones and distant places to experience drama and the unknown – odds are, they are just around the corner.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

Explain to us the creative process on how you shot each images?

For those strangers who accepted to be photographed, things progressed quite directly. I would invite myself to their home so that the session could take place in the comfort of a familiar, safe environment. A visit could last from a couple of hours to much longer, depending on how long it took to break the ice and get just the right shot I was looking for—raw, yet intimate.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

Still, despite some differences, I should say that everyone I worked with was incredibly open. Although the pictures were highly personal, the fact that each subject was recommended by a friend meant they felt taken care of.

What are the fascinating discoveries you had while shooting this series?

My Photography is all about people that I on some way, is fascinated by. Whether it’s about documenting what’s in front of your eyes or, in my case, working on a project where you are portraying people, it really comes down to a feeling, an interpersonal decisive and fascinating moments: does my subject seem approachable or not? When I approach people in the street, I am faced with the challenge of having 10-30 seconds to read them and become intrigued. Once the connection has been made, the decisive (photographic) and fascinated (personal) moment comes much later.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

The kind of photos I take demand letting our guards down. This naturally brings me quite close to the people I photograph within a few hours (or even faster, sometimes).

I genuinely believe that what makes me able to take the pictures that I do is not so much the equipment I bring, but my ability—and more importantly desire!—to speak, ask questions and do a lot of listening. Meeting people I don’t know and getting to take in their life stories in generous gulps really fascinates me.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

In my experience, if you truly listen to people, and show them respect, they meet you with trust. With this trust, magic happens and fascinating moments will occur.

As an artist, how important it is for you to let your images narrate a socially relevant story?

Every portrait tells a number of stories. They both tell the story of that particular person portrayed and the situation at display. But as part of a series they are also part of a bigger narrative. They tell us how it is to be part of this particular tribe, living in this moment of time.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

As a photographer I like to think that my pictures will remain interesting even in the future, by telling stories that are universal to us as humans. I think that is the point – that photography and portraits in particular makes it possible for us to relate to people we don’t know. And that is how personal portraits are socially relevant no matter the context.

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

Lastly, tell us about your upcoming projects?

I am working on a more classical street photography project. Recently I was at the biggest Scandinavian music festival, Roskilde Festival, and I spent six days wandering around the camp area with my camera, capturing all the laid back craziness going on at a festival like that. And I will visit the festival again next year….

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul

© Jens Juul