The sun is shining on Islands Brygge as we share coffee and rolls at Foodshop No 26. The Fussells, Jack and Valentina, are sitting with me and Creative Director Freya (who is furiously yet unobtrusively snapping pictures like the pro she is) while we chat about what brings them to Copenhagen.
It’s kind of a long story, but let me give you the abridged version. From the United States, then to Spain, Morocco and finally Denmark, Valentina and Jack have raised a family of three while each creating a unique creative voice.
While living in Morocco, Jack ran a language school. Valentina was at home with the kids and was looking for something to do from the home. “Start a blog!” Jack told her, noticing all the blogs starting up around them. Valentina resisted until 2007, when she decided that a way to share her crafting and traveling stories was just what she needed; and so Traveling Mama was born. At that point, Jack was the one taking pictures while Valentina did the writing.
When Valentina became pregnant with their third child, Jack’s interest in photography blossomed into a passion. Though he had been a degree in music performance (opera), Jack had always keenly felt the difference between being a performer and a creator. “I wanted to create,” he said, “and with music, it just never clicked for me. With photography, I felt it pretty much immediately.”
A few years later, The Fussells moved to Copenhagen and Valentina had, as she puts it, a “midlife crisis.” She laughs, realizing that one’s 30’s are perhaps a bit early of an age to have a midlife crisis. “The blog was a way for me to figure things out,” she says.
And what she figured out is that she wanted to take on photography herself. Soon, both she and Jack were learning photography technique and applying it not only to the blog, but to a whole new career path. “For us,” says Valentina, “we didn’t want more posing or replicating. We wanted to create something authentic and new.”
For the two of them, that creation isn’t exclusive to being commercial. Jack photographs a fair amount of head shots, weddings and corporate events. “I approach them in the same way,” he says, “I’m always looking for the special moment, the little thing that’s fresh.”
As we talk about travel and the creative process, the conversation keeps coming back to Denmark. “It’s such an exciting place,” says Jack, “and as I got more involved in the start-up, creative industries here, I wanted a way to showcase all of these people. That’s how Onward Creatives came about. I wanted to give the creative community a voice and a platform.” Valentina adds, “It’s a way to show people that they’re not alone.”
Jack continues, “What’s great about Copenhagen is that people really believe in design. Design of everything. And they support designers. That’s something that’s really affected my perspective. I don’t think I would be the person that I am if I hadn’t moved to Copenhagen. It’s given me a great deal of freedom and safety to explore the career path that I want.”
Though Jack also works as a cultural awareness consultant and life coach, Valentina and Jack are now working on how to combine their blogs and photography in a way leverages the success of both while allowing for continued innovation.
“At first we thought the fact that we wanted to do similar things would be a disadvantage. Then we realized that we could make it work for us; that it could even make our work better! Now we’re figuring out the next step.” Valentina says. “We are planning to sell prints of our high-end travel photography, which is something that people ask us about a lot.”
But the immediate next step is a six month stopover in Atlanta, Georgia. “We’re going back to the United States for a brief period but we’ll be back in Denmark soon.” Jack tells me. “As we’re packing up, I’m more aware than ever of how living in Denmark has changed me and our family.”
Asked if they have any last words of advice for those who want to build something original, the two of them look at each other thoughtfully. Valentina says: “Live out your dreams. That’s the best advice I can give.” Jack nods in agreement.
We’ve long since finished our coffee, remnants of our rolls with cheese strewn about the table. The sun is out and we decide to take some photos for the article along the Islands Brygge harbor. We push in our chairs and make our way down the street, still chatting. Jack and Valentina clasp hands; Freya begins snapping photos. And although the Fussells look at-home in Copenhagen, it’s obvious that the place they feel most at home is with each other.