Mathias Svold

6x6 Europe Talent: Mathias Svold, Denmark

Mathias is a skilled young documentary photographer. He is capable of following a long-term project until the end. He has a strong and consistent visual identity.” - Paolo Verzone, photographer and 6x6 nominator, Italy.

Mathias Svold is a documentary photographer based in Denmark. Besides pursuing personal long-term projects, he is working with various kinds of reportage, portrait and video assignments. His work often investigates how climate, people and communities affect the nature. In 2017 he graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism’s photojournalism program. He has been interning for National Geographic Magazine (US) and Jyllands-Posten (DK), and he is currently a mentee at VII's two-year program.

A Voice for Nature

In 2017 the Whanganui river in New Zealand was granted the same legal rights as a person. For the indigenous Maori people who view the river as "an indivisible and living whole,” this was a monumental victory or more than 700 years the Maori tribes controlled, cared for, and depended on the Whanganui river. It is their “awa tupua” – their river of sacred power. However, when European settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, the tribes' traditional authority was undermined and finally extinguished by government decree.

In the new legislation, the Crown issued an apology for its historical wrong-doing and recognized the river has more than economic value, but also spiritual, emotional and cultural value. This project is a journey along the Whanganui River, investigating the connection between the Maori and the river, as well as the challenges the river still is facing.

“The great river flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the river, the river is me.” With these words, the Maori tribes of Whanganui declare their inseverable connection to their ancestral river that stretches 290 kilometers on the North Island of New Zealand. 29 August, 2018.

Law student Te Wainuiarua Poa (21) is a Whanganui Maori for whom the words: “I am the river, the river is me” is a life-defining reality. She is named after Whanganui River's ancient name. Around her neck she wears a pendant shaped from the volcanic rock of the Tongariro mountains – a token from the source of her ancestral river. Upholding the river’s mana, or prestige, she says, “it’s a never-ending journey.” 1 August, 2018.

Jason Waters attaches chopped trees to a tractor on 10 August, 2018. Forestry is one of the main industries along the river. It creates jobs, but also challenges. Forestry replaces native bush, which has a negative environmental impact on waterways and wildlife.

For many young Maori, a journey on the river is a journey for the soul. Often displaced and disconnected from their geographical roots, urban Maori fare poorly on social measures such as education, health, and employment, and the incarceration rate of Maori is more than three times their proportion of the population. For this group of former prisoners, communing with the river is a way of nurturing their own sense of self. 20 July, 2018.


Despite Denmark being one of Europe’s smallest countries, it has one of the longest coastlines in Europe, stretching over 8.750 kilometers. It is a place of work, a sanctuary, and a tourist attraction. For more than a century, public coastal access has been protected by law. However, the coast also brings conflict. In recent years there’s been a political debate in Denmark about whether to protect the coast or to develop it for tourism. The sea mercilessly eats away at the coast, placing houses and fields at risk, while climate change creates fear of devastating floods and rising water levels.

This project investigates how nature, people, and society use and impact the coast, and explores the relationship and tension between humans and nature. Over the last two years, Svold has traveled across Denmark to capture the varied ways Danish people interact with the coast.  

People in Aarhus swim at the popular beach “The Permanent”.’ A hundred years ago, the port was exclusively an industrial harbor, and the water was referred to as dirty, polluted and murky. Today a new, exclusive neighborhood is under construction. The water is now referred to as blue, recreational and attractive, and in most large Danish cities new neighborhoods appear next to the port. 1 June, 2017.

The waves of the North Sea eat insatiably away at land. Therefore, the Coastal Directorate is extensively adding sand at Vejlby Klit, which is one of the most vulnerable erosion spots. A ship pumps up sand from the seabed through a tube to the coast. There it is sprayed across the beach, increasing its height by 2-3 meters in some places. The sand added to the West Coast by the sand ship in a year exceeds the equivalent of 85,000 truckloads. In a few years, the process will have to be repeated, when the waves have reclaimed the sand. 14 May, 2017.

Not far from Denmark’s northernmost point it’s Frederikshavn’s Palm Beach. More than 100 Chinese flax trees and date palms from the Canary Islands are put in the sand each spring after wintering in a greenhouse. The people of Frederikshavn initially met the notion of spending money on palm trees with skepticism, but today the trees are an ingrained part of the city’s image in Denmark and abroad. 14 May, 2018.

“This landslide hadn’t happened last Saturday,” says Gunnar while pointing up to the slope. He is a geography teacher from Støvring High School taking two of his classes on a field trip. They need to learn about coastal formation, which is a highly visible process here at Nr. Lyngby, on the northernmost part of the West Coast. The sea is eating the slopes, and during the last 50 years, almost 50 meters have disappeared. Half the local cemetery has crashed into the sea, along with several holiday homes. 14 May, 2017.

See 'The Wild Within' by Mathias Svold on Witness

Discover work by the 6x6 Europe talents, and find out about 6x6’s nomination and selection process.