Fact: Danish Newspapers don’t care about swans!

How a chance encounter with a big white bird didn’t really amount to much

In this industry, every day is a fresh start. Sure, you have the usual amount of daily tasks – social media, sending invoices, archiving images – but the commute to work every morning is a wondrous event, with ideas swirling around ones head during the 20-minute bike ride.

Those of you who read our last blog (Barcelona, see below) may have noticed that it was written by a guy named Joe Miller, who recently started putting pen to paper for me. During a lengthy chat yesterday we discussed the stress of having so many ideas and thoughts buzzing around but not really having the time, money or man-power to execute them properly. In many ways it was quite a depressing conversation, the realisation that money plays a huge role in decision-making processes.

One of the things we are working hard on here at PBMJ is delivering a weekly journal entry every Wednesday, and it can be difficult to come up with interesting content on a regular basis. So far we think we’re doing quite well, but as always these things can always be improved.

Fortunately for me I have a rather large archive of former blog posts from the website denmark.dk, which sadly stopped running blogs late last year.

So this morning, when I decided to take a break from the office and swing by a very relaxed cafe for some breakfast, I started looking through my archive for some inspiration. And I found it in the shape of a swan!

When the post was first published I was relatively new on the scene in Copenhagen and my photography business skills were still trying to find their feet. I had no clients, my website(s) were still under construction and I had absolutely no direction or guidance. As a result, I often spent the afternoons aimlessly wandering around the city, trying to get my bearings. It was a bizarre time of my life.

During one of these wanderings I spotted a small crowd of people and went over to investigate. Low and behold, the police had stopped all traffic down Hyskenstræde due to a rogue swan sitting in the road, and if experience has taught me anything it’s that swans make great front page news. No?

Said experience came from my days as a photographer for the Derby Telegraph, where we once received a tip off from a guy who had spotted a family of swans walking down the road. “Wow, what a scoop,” I said sarcastically to the editor. “It’s a great story,” she frowned, “get down there.” Indeed it actually was and the picture made the front page the next day. I shit you not!

Back in Copenhagen I was papping away as our rogue swan sat and did nothing other than exist. Thankfully there were plenty of passersby who stopped to interact with the beast (who not only can snap your arm, but wants to) and I left with enough decent images to send to the local newspapers.

Now you have to appreciate at this stage, that getting in to the Danish newspaper industry was at the top of my list of things to do, so I began sending email after email to as many editors as I could find and eagerly awaited their replies. (By the way, the swan is Denmark’s national bird).

Needless to say, the responses didn’t come thick-and-fast, and those that did were a resounding ’No!’ I was partially devasted; why on earth could nobody see this was front page news?


Over time I figured it out, of course. Copenhagen is, after all, a city on the global stage. Presidents come and go, wind energy provides a ridiculous amount of power to the population, and the city is just alive with amazing people and events. It puts the swan to the bottom of the list, even on a slow news day.

But it’s bugged me ever since; trying to get your work noticed by ‘influencers’ in print and online is a huge task, and one that requires dedication and focus. Like I said, we’re working on it.

With all of this in mind, I can end on a high note, and some good advice for those of you struggling to get your foot in the door: try the back door instead!

It’s something I’ve advocated before, and will continue to do so in the future.

During my attempts to get Mr. Swan in the press, I found the head offices of Berlingske Media – a large publishing house in Denmark. I asked to speak with the Picture Editor, and after a quick phone call the receptionist told me to send her an email.

I understood the dismissal, of course, but it was probably the beginning of the end for my DK newspaper hopes and dreams. All I wanted was a chance to show off my portfolio and feel the hectic hum of a working newspaper office once again. That day it didn’t happen, and I abandoned the idea shortly after.

Then, a few months ago, I received a phone call from a friend of a friend, and he was looking for a regular photographer for monthly assignments. He worked for Berlingske.

We eventually negotiated a deal, which also gave me the opportunity to permanently hire a new addition to the team, and so began the growth of Photography by Matthew James.

That deal was broken in with an official tour of Berlingske’s office, and at long last I got to see the place for myself. I found myself longing for the regular job lifestyle all over again: the awesome canteen with great food, the outdoor balcony with views over the city, the journalists laughing at the TV as Donald Trump bullshitted his way through yet another debate. I confess I miss it all very much…

Sadly, the trend of staff photographers losing their jobs is on-going and seemingly irreversible. Which is why being a freelancer is harder now than ever, yet even more rewarding. There are job opportunities galore out there at the moment, as my calendar confirms.

And let’s not forget the attractive fact, that I am currently finishing off a Danish pastry whilst listening to some 60s tunes, surrounded by like-minded creative professionals.

My boss doesn’t give a shit!

This blog first featured on www.photographybymatthewjames.com