Photo Essay

Punks in RÃ¥dhuspladsen

Punks in the Square #3

The day started when I woke in my very Danish hotel room, knowing it was my one free day to explore Copenhagen. I was on a brisk winter tour of Europe for work, 7 countries in 15 days. I was on a circuit to lecture groups of computer artists on software employed in my place of work, a visual effects company in San Francisco. I was about to start the second week of lectures, having just come from Spain where I broke my thumb boarding the flight to Denmark. That's a story for another time. Having arrived, and lectured the night before, Copenhagen had to be absorbed in a solid day, as I was to fly to Munich Germany the following morning. With a makeshift splint on my thumb, the Leica M6 around my neck, and a scarf big enough to disguise the camera, I left the hotel room as the sun was still rising. Like the 4 European cities I had been to in the week before, I grabbed a city map from the concierge, and walked through the spinning front door of the hotel, past the taxi stand, and onto the sidewalk to blend in with the city.

Thinking I knew the city after a half day of walking around, and having recently imbibed a few pints over lunch, I got lost and took a side street that deposited me on to Nybrogade Strand. A beautiful street held by a glass smooth canal. I was standing across, facing the postcard perfect buildings that anchor to the edge of the canal by the crowded outdoor cafes on their ground floor. I was lining up to take a shot, when I heard the song "Black Math" by 'The White Stripes' approaching like a siren. I turned on the sidewalk and saw four people running towards me, pulling a cart behind them. In the cart was a single loudspeaker powered by a boom box. I pressed the shutter for a postcard snapshot of the canal and started to follow them to see where they were going. As I began to lose sight of them, I started to hear what sounded like a concert. In pursuit, I rounded the corner, and found myself facing a police barricade. Behind the relaxed officers in a conversation on their own, was a mob of at least 1,000 people, mostly hard-core punks and teenagers dressed in an entire spectrum of edgy stereotypes of youth. Leather jackets, knee high laced military boots, and spiked hair that I recalled first hand having had spent hours in front of a mirror to get just right. I instantly felt overdressed and conservative as the modern middle-aged man in a clean black winter coat. Sure, my past always have me favoring funky shoes to this day, but I was no longer part of the universal crowd like the one that was gathering behind a flatbed truck stacked with loudspeakers preparing for a rally. I had no idea what the man standing on the roof of the truck was yelling into his microphone, filling the area with his voice in the loudspeakers with words that didn't click with anything on the 'Common Danish Phrases' page from my new pocket guidebook. I crossed the police line, pulled the camera out from its hiding place in my scarf, and merged into the leather and denim crowd.

I worked my way to the truck, and started taking pictures. I was instantly regretting that I only had 2 rolls of film, and the one in the camera was about spent on postcard pictures. What I thought was a rally, turned in to a march, and I was walking along with them while loading my last roll. I moved along with the flow, and just enjoyed pretending to be a photojournalist on assignment. The truck of loudspeakers continued to lead the way with the sound of the speaker and the crowd repeating whatever he yelled. I still had no idea what was going on, so I just kept taking pictures. The truck finally silenced about 20 minutes later when we were all in the The City Hall Square of Copenhagen. RÃ¥dhuspladsen. The crowd started thinning out, and I only had a few shots left. I found myself near a small group of punks that had been camping at the square in a tent covered in graffiti, and full of blankets, beer bottles, and opened cereal boxes. I mixed it up with a few punks that still had energy, and discovered that if you flip them off, you instantly become one of them, and become accepted. I flipped them off, and dropped to my knees with my camera aimed at them. Just like that, I was one of them as they smiled and saluted with fists and middle fingers. Forgetting that I looked nothing like them, and still had no idea what they were saying to me, I continued to shoot. The charge of energy began to fade, and the punks either receded to their tent, or just sat wherever they stopped standing. Exhausted, and still slightly buzzed, I just sat on the ground in the middle of the square and finished off the roll. After the final frame was exposed, I stowed my camera back behind my scarf, and took the scene in for a while before getting up to walk back to the hotel, and get some rest for my 2 days in Germany.

I still don't know what the rally was for. I just happened to be at the right place, at the right time, with not enough film, and a good beer buzz.

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2 responses

  • James Blucher

    James Blucher (Deleted) said (22 Oct 2008):

    amazing story, this needs to be published. got my vote

  • Tip Crowley

    Tip Crowley gave props (3 Sep 2011):

    I love it!

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