The first time Mads Nissen set foot in the Amazon Rainforest he was 19 years old. He was not a photographer; or an anthropologist; or a linguist, but simply a curious young man.

“I didn’t know much about pictures,” says Mads, “But I’ve always had three big interests in life: Creativity (mostly drawings), social awareness/ engagement in society (I was active in grassroots organisations), and a curiosity for the rest of the world. Growing up in the boring countryside of Denmark, from an early age I had a big desire to discover more).

“In Venezuela I walked the streets, met local people, chatted, took pictures of the contrasts that I saw and felt - and then one day I suddenly realised that with photography I could combine all three interests. Since then, that’s what I’ve been doing.”

It sounds like a familiar scenario. Many photographers begin their professional lives like this: Curious about the world and wanting to find a way to turn their curiosity (and creativity) into a living.

Mads Nissen has done just that. Aged just 33, he has won a number of awards for his photography (too many for one mantelpiece), including a clutch of POYi awards (2007, 2010, 2010, 2012) a World Press Photo Award in 2011 and Photographer of the Year 2012 in the Danish Press Photo Awards. Now, what began as a gap year excursion is about to be become a book.

After that first trip into the Venezuelan Amazon, Mads began studying Photojournalism at the prestigious Danish School of Media and Journalism, in Aarhus. There was no question what his final year project would focus on.

Colombia, Brazil and Peru were the three countries Mads visited for his bachelor’s degree, and right from the very beginning, his Amazon work took the shape of a book in his mind.

This is what first struck me, looking through the early photographs, and later, book dummies. There was a certain clarity of vision. My personal interest in the art of the photobook has led me to the, not particularly insightful, understanding that a high-quality photobook is not just (or even) a collection of high-quality photographs. It is something else. It is something in itself. And this is what led me to pick up the phone to Mads to speak to him about how his work from the Amazon got to where it is now.

“I wanted to tell my story from this place,” recalls Mads “not just to present a collection of images, but a singular vision, so each picture should work within that framework [of the book] or not be included at all, no matter the quality of images… It’s a personal essay not a piece of journalism. For me a good photographer needs to be able to work both very rationally, or intellectually, and also very irrationally, or based on something close to pure instinct.”

As with most photographic work worth talking about, nice pictures aren’t enough. The photographer needs to have something to say about their subject. They need to strive for an understanding that goes beyond the aesthetic.

After graduating from Aarhus, it was a question of balancing paid, often short, assignments, with trips to the Amazon to keep working on the book. Not the easiest of tasks for a young photojournalist based in Shanghai. But he managed. Making a number of trips to six countries in the Amazon region, all the while refining his technique and style. The decision to shoot in B/W was made right from the beginning:

“I move, compose and shoot very differently when using B/W. Therefore I have to know 100% before. B/W can be more abstract – which I liked for this project. I basically tried very much to shoot with my gut. On more journalistic stories there’s a lot of things to take into account. A lot of things you want to point out and maybe combine in one frame. This project was different and based more on my personal instinct. I also made some rules that I wouldn’t compose my pictures too much – try to avoid too many layers, unlike most of the ‘Danish wave’ from that school. I would try to cut straight into the flesh in a more impulsive and direct way of taking images.”

No matter how personal a work, no matter how instinctively it is shot, when it comes to making a book, you have to open up and let others in. Book making is a collaborative process, and it can often be a lengthy one too. Deciding on edits, design, and ultimately ways of funding the book, on top of the actual production, can be an arduous process.

“Especially in the beginning of a project I spend a lot of time tuning in to what I call the tone or mood, or just the feeling of the story. I might select a couple of images that will serve as guidelines for this – this is what I need to look for – these pictures point out the direction to follow. I look at these pictures again and again even out in the field when I’m not shooting.

“Back home, I start selecting alone, then selecting together with a trusted group of colleagues. Too many opinions will confuse more than direct. And then there’s the editing, the layout and flow of the book. For this I worked either alone or with picture editor Per Folkver [one of the most respected photo-editors in Denmark] who is the wisest man I’ve ever met.”

The hard work of photographing, editing and designing are all for nothing however if you can’t fund the book. It’s the perennial problem. Not just for books, but for documentary photography projects in general.

Mads told me one of the many challenges “is that not many grants support ‘documentary photography’, so instead I looked for those who support ‘art’. Only problem is that many of the boards have a very narrow definition of what ‘art’ is. Having a World Press Photo award on the CV might actually turn potential art funders off, just because of the words ‘press photo’.”

One thing Mads admitted to - which is easier for some, and harder for others - is shameless self-promotion. You have to use every opportunity available to draw attention to your project. After picking up the Danish Press Photographer of the Year award towards the end of last year, Mads was invited onto a morning television programme to talk about his work in Libya. When asked by the interviewer, “what will you be working on next?” he mentioned the Amazonas project and said that this year would be spent trying to raise funds for the production of the book. A few days after the interview a cheque arrived in the post for 50,000 Danish Kroner (GBP 5000). Not every photographer has the opportunity to talk about their work on national television, but the more people that know about a project, the more likely you are to find someone who believes in the work.

Amazonas will be published by Gyldendal in June 2013

On The Marshes

The Hackney, Walthamstow and Leyton marshes are one of those special parts of London. A place where nature and the city knock heads, forming a vital and well-used open space in what is a densely populated part of the city. Horses and grey herons cross paths with tatty pigeons and Staffordshire bull terriers; you can go horse riding and ice-skating, play football and fish. You can get lost in the marshes, but unlike on Hampstead Heath, where it is possible for a moment to believe that you are out of London, on the Marshes the dissecting train lines and electricity pylons don’t let you forget.

It’s this apparent contradiction that keeps me enthralled. Ever since moving to the area five years ago, I have wandered around the paths, through the nature reserves and across the football pitches and the River Lea, under and over decrepit bridges, down into sunken filter beds and then up onto open marshland.

There is something in the old, dilapidated industrial feel of the area – little of which still remains – that I find fascinating. The Lea, and its canals, once formed a vital supply line for the Capital; delivering tons of small factory products, such as pins and needles, matchsticks and children’s toys to a rapidly growing Victorian city. The great cholera outbreak of 1832 killed over 30,000 people in East London alone and led to the establishment of filter beds in the Marshes to clean the water from the River Lea.  A great concrete turning circle and the remnants of train lines still cut through the area where the filter beds once stood.


In the winter of 2011, I decided to try to capture how I was feeling. It was a long winter. The combination of my old Canon FTb and a load of FP4, and the subtle brooding nature of the Marshes, seemed to be a perfect fit with my state of mind. As I began printing these first grey, misty, unpopulated images, short narratives began to form. I began sequencing images, still devoid of any real narrative. It was then that I got in touch with my friend Sammy. I knew he shared my sense for the melancholic, and I thought, with any luck, he might want to join my Marshes project. I sent him a couple of sequences of images and he sent me back a couple of stories. And so it began. Over the next six months pictures and stories would flow between us. Sometimes Sammy would write, then I would shoot; sometimes I would shoot then Sammy would write.

The idea of a collection of unrelated stories, whose only link was the physical space of the Marshes, began to take hold. Sammy and I sat together going over ideas. Unbound pages à la BS Johnson, or the work of Richard Long. Thankfully a lot of our more fantastical ideas were reined in through the skill of Daisy Lumley, a good friend, and the designer for the Marshes book. Initial concepts of great sprawling concertinas and elaborately printed postcards were replaced with a more elegant and balanced design. We did manage to keep hold of a single page of letterpress type – a deliberate nod to the industrial processes of the area. The letterpress page was printed in Stepney, East London; the rest of the book in Bermondsey, just south of the Thames. Together with the hand screen-printed covers – printed by Tartaruga’s Max Bondi - and the hand-sewn binding, the book is intended to have a distinctly hand-made feel. The tactile nature of a book is very important. The paper, ink, stitching are all what make a book stand out from any other form of presentation. It needs to be held, to have its pages turned. There is an intimacy to the book that could not be replicated online or in a gallery. That's why we made it the way we did. It could not exist in any other form.

Josh Lustig

Book Launch

Please join us to celebrate the release of the first publication from Tartaruga Press:
The Marshes
by Samuel Wright & Josh Lustig
Thursday 27 June 2013
6.30pm – 9.30pm
The Great Eastern Bear
8a Great Eastern Street

The book is released in a limited and numbered edition of 300.
Copies of the book will be on sale for a reduced price of £20.

For more info please see:

All new Tartaruga

Some things have changed around here, as you can see. Tartaruga is now more than a record label, and we have a shiny new website to celebrate. This blog will be a space where we regularly post things of interest, as well as more in depth pieces about the work we're releasing.

So, what is Tartaruga now? We continue to be a record label, and we'll soon have some announcements of forthcoming releases which we're very exited about. But Tartaruga is also now a publisher, working with the same ethos and approach we've always had, and we will be producing limited and high quality editions, books, and prints, primarily available through this website and a select few other places.

The first publication by Tartaruga Press is 'The Marshes', a stunning and highly original book blending short fiction and photography, exploring a pretty unique part of London. The book itself will be the subject of a blog post shortly, so I won't go into too much detail here.

The old website was looking fairly shabby, it's fair to say, and so it has had a complete overhaul, built entirely from scratch. It is now easier to navigate, easier to read, and easier for us to share with you the information and news we want to. All items still in stock can be purchased direct from this site, and we'd encourage you to buy direct from us if possible. The shop is totally secure and we use paypal for the actual transactions, so you can be totally confident that your personal details aren't going anywhere else.

As the site is new, there may well be some teething problems. If so, please let us know! The best way to contact us is by email, via info [at] You can also comment directly on all blog posts. 


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