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Mads Nissen

For Mads Nissen (1979) photography is all about empathy – creating understanding and intimacy while confronting contemporary and social issues such as inequality, human rights violations, and the lack of global responsibility.

He is a three-time recipient of the main prize at the World Press Photo. Latest in 2023 with The Story of the Year from the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. In 2022 he was awarded the Visa d’Or and named as ‘The International Photographer of the Year’ (POY).

Mads Nissen lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with his wife and three children and works for POLITIKEN, a daily newspaper praised for its strong commitment to visual journalism. He frequently gives lectures and workshop, and his work can be seen in international publications and at solo-exhibitions across Europe and Latin America.

He started working in Colombia in 2006 and has published three books, latest We Are Indestructible (GOST, 2018) about the multi-layered seams of the Colombian conflict.

Mads Nissen is currently working on the project ‘Sangre Blanca – The Lost War on Cocaine’, an in-depth investigation on the human consequences of the global cocaine business.

Mads Nissen



We are in the golden age of cocaine. Consumption and production have never been higher despite more than 50 years of the ‘War on Drugs’.

For many Europeans and Americans, cocaine is a party drug. For many Latinos, it’s blood and violence, corruption and death.

This reportage delves into the murky depths of the cocaine trade, and investigates the human consequences along the journey, as the drugs travel from the neglected countryside of Colombia till it reaches the craving consumers on a European dancefloor.

Illegal drugs now constitute the world’s largest illegal economy, and in its wake follow corruption, underdevelopment, and extremely high murder rates in South and Central America in particular. Entire societies and nations are destabilized.

Regardless of years of war and endless efforts by the US, Colombia remains at the heart of the business. No country produces more. From here the cocaine travels by land, sea, and air to reach its buyers in mainly the US and Europe, but at every stop the cocaine gives and takes.

In Mexico, a key hub of transit, the lucrative business has fueled narco-cartels so powerful that every level of society now seems entangled, meanwhile their well-equipped armies cause so much terror and instability that millions of people fell forced to migrate.

The international response to the rise of cocaine has so far been a mixture of prohibition, hard punishment, and bloody military campaigns that are raging across the countryside. This has been the strategy since the 1970s – but is it working? From whose perspective? And what are the human consequences behind the world’s favorite party drug?