Pictures that open doors – NJC’s photo masterclass in Russia, Next to Me

Next to Me, photo book. Russian and Nordic photographers tell each other's stories. NJC project, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers
Next to Me, photo book. Russian and Nordic photographers tell each other's stories. NJC project, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers

Like all brilliant ideas the idea of Next to Me is very simple: Take a group of talented Nordic and Russian photographers, bring them together and let them tell each other’s stories

By Ole Rode Jensen

In Danish 

NJC’s photojournalism project ”Next to Me”, which was completed in 2017, was ran by internationally acknowledged photographers Mads Nissen and Mads Greve. The project was financed by Nordic Council of Ministers.

Mads Nissen was Danish press photographer of the year in 2017, and in 2015 he was awarded the prestigious prize for best World Press Photo – actually from Russia.

See: Mads Nissen’s World Press Photo winning picture 2015 (homepage)
See: Picture of the Year, Norway – Represented in the Photobook “Next to Me”

Picture of The Year, Norway by photojournalist Katinka Hustad, participant in NJC’s masterclass Next to Me.

Picture of The Year, Norway by photojournalist Katinka Hustad, participant in NJC’s masterclass Next to Me.

The participants were selected by application and the intention was a fifty-fifty grouping of Nordic and Russian photographers as well as male and female photographers.
Fourteen photographers got through the eye of the needle and met for the first masterclass in St. Petersburg and later on in Copenhagen.

People rather than Power

Next to Me in English, Рядом со мной in Russian, was not about huge political stories. It was not about power, but about people, right where they are, right next to us.
In the preface for the photobook, the finishing touch on the masterclass project, the teachers write:

“In times of mistrust, old hatred and new terms like fake news we need this insight in each other’s lives. In order to let down our guard and understand each other across the Baltic Sea, the first step is to get to know each other. To open the doors. To look inside. That is what the photographers do in Next to Me.

A photobook of fourteen essays

“Next to Me” became a photobook with fourteen very different essays.

The underlying curious questions are: What do people in the Nordic countries look like through a Russian lens? And what does Russia look like through the lenses of a Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish photographer?

Read: Great talent chosen for master class

Take the Russian photographer who meets a Syrian Refugee in Denmark. Both their names mean “light” and they are both women and 25 years old. That’s where the story starts, and after these initial resemblances everything is totally different. A stirring story told through highly empathetic photographs.

Or the Danish male photographer who sees that Russian fathers too attend antenatal classes and brush their children’s teeth. Well, why not?
All essays have their own focus and relate a small part of reality in their own personal way.

The Third Master Class Project

Next to Me was the third photo masterclass run by NJC. The first one, Sort of Safe, ran in 2009 and the photographic narratives focused on the Nordic welfare state model.
The second one, Next Door, which ran in 2013-2014, featured Northwest Russian Photographers’ stories about their own country.

With Next to Me NJC’s photo masterclass has both Nordic and Russian participants for the first time.

Russia is no longer a distant and mysterious neighbouring country for me, but a place where I had some strong meetings and good experiences. It is a country I want to go back to, explore further, learn more about, because I think it is important to tell stories from Russia that lead to greater understanding, curiosity and empathy rather than reinforcing a scaring carpet of stereotypes and prejudices. The NJC Masterclass was a beginning to something I’m now starting to grasp the range of.

-Katinka Hustad, Norge

Public diplomacy

Apart from being a focal point for a masterclass under the leadership of award winning photographers this project is also an object lesson of public diplomacy. 
That was how the project from Nordic Council of Ministers and NJC was introduced at the conference East and West Meet in St. Petersburg in November 2017.
Buy the book “Next to Me”

Publishing company Ajour:

Next to Me – buy the book