“This turned out to be a very personal journey of observing other people’s happiness, to try and understand what happiness means to me,” remarks visual artist and social documentarist, Giulia Mangione, of her series Halfway Mountain. Originally started in 2014 while studying advanced visual storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, the project explores what it is that sees Denmark, and its Nordic neighbours, consistently ranking in the top three spots in the yearly World Happiness Report.
In the beginning, Halfway Mountain was supposed to end after a month-long project while Giulia was at university, however, “when I handed in the project I felt that, even though there were already some key pictures, I was still just scratching the surface,” she recalls, “I felt that the story I wanted to tell was much wider and would require much more time.” As a result, Giulia began returning to Denmark after she completed the course, on a “sort of quest” to understand how people live in the happiest country in the world.
The subjects of the project vary, from small children to waitresses, twins to elderly nudists. “I am drawn to a certain kind of people, I would say, and they also come to me,” Giulia explains. However, a lot of her decisions on who to shoot were also based on word of mouth. Over one summer in 2016, she bought a second-hand car and spent two months travelling around the country.
“I stayed with some families that lived on farms out in the countryside and then they would suggest some other people to meet and then these other people would lead me to others and so on. It has been a sort of treasure hunt,” she tells us, “I was thrilled every time I got in my car holding a piece of paper with an address of a person, having no idea who would it be.”
Having worked on the project for over three years, Giulia admits that she has “more questions than answers, and I think that’s how it should be”. What started as an exploration into one nation, has clearly become a much larger project, one that explores humankind, and what makes us happy, as a whole. “Human beings surprise me all the time and they will never cease to amaze me,” she concludes, “I hope.”
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