When it rains... 
Friday, April 6, 2007, 09:43 - Personal, Project News
Stuttgart

“Ask and ye shall receive” the Gospel of Matthew tells us. That’s the interesting thing about clichés, there is at least a kernel of truth in them, otherwise they would not be clichés. I suppose it is possible that the universe heard my plaintive cry about not feeling accepted and decided that Damaso deserves some validation. So to quote another cliché, when it rains, it pours…

Over the past few months, usually in the afternoon, I focused my psychic energy to some room in Vienna, where a group of distinguished people were no doubt gathered around a conference table debating the merits of different candidates. Apparently my focused thoughts, or my talent or proposal or blind luck, seems to have swayed them.

I am a Fulbright Scholar.

Yes, I am as surprised as you are.


Pretty much how I feel right now.© Damaso Reyes

I figured since there was only one slot that it was very unlikely that I would be so honored as to be selected. But next January and February I will be an artist in residence at the Museums Quartier in Vienna.

There is little doubt in my mind that this is indeed a turning point in my life, one that I have worked very hard to achieve. But to say that this success is mine and mine alone would be dishonest. Thanks go to Audrey Jonckheer at Kodak, Elinor Tatum, Publisher of the Amsterdam News, and Deb Willis, Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at NYU for writing me recommendations. I am sure that the kind words of these three strong women played no small role in securing this fellowship.

That I have been given such an honor speaks volumes about the people who have trusted and supported me over the years. I still have a long way to go but your faith in me and my project has sustained me even though the darkest of hours. It is with that faith that I continue on this winding road.

But wait, there’s more…

Just days after I learned of the Fulbright, while I was happily snapping away in Hamburg, I received an email notifying me of an additional honor. I am one of ten American journalists selected to receive an Arthur Burns Fellowship. That’s right, this summer I will be back in Germany, working for some big time publication, stirring things up. It truly is an embarrassment of riches but after hearing the word NO so many times over the years these two fellowships allow me a sigh of relief.

During one of my many walks in the woods over the past few weeks I often thought of what I would do after my time at Solitude ended. I began conjuring creative ways of keeping the project going and none of them satisfied me. Now I have a little more breathing room to continue to create. I look forward to taking full advantage!

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Rights? You don't need any rights.... 
Wednesday, April 4, 2007, 10:10 - Project News, Commentary
Stuttgart

What, you may ask, have I been doing since I have returned from Hamburg. Well beside processing 36 rolls of film in the last 36 hours, I have been trying to set up shoots for an upcoming trip to Berlin towards the end of the month. So you know what that means: endless research, endless phone calls, endless emails, I’ll spare you the details. Add the fact that apparently this week and next many Germans go on holiday because of Easter. On the one hand it will be nice to get some work done without being distracted, on the other there is a whole mess of work I won’t be able to do because no one will be around.



Anyway in addition to trolling the internet for photo shoot ideas I have been thinking about my industry and my own future. I recently read an article on PDN’s website which discussed how USA Today, the largest circulation newspaper in America, is asking more rights from its freelancers. This seems to be a never ending dance with major newspapers and magazines like the New York Times on one side and us poor freelancers on the other. Right now, and for some time to come I imagine, there will be an excess of freelance photographers out there. The big corporations clearly have numbers on their side since there always seem to be young selfish photographers out there who want to work for the big boys and don’t mind giving up their rights. Eventually the principled photographers who refused to sign the bad contract sign it in order to feed themselves.

And then the companies ask for more rights. Soon it seems like they will ask us to pay them for the privilege of being published. This is one of the aspects of the business of photography which has led me to increasingly apply for fellowships. Over the past three months I haven’t thought once about whether I can sell a photograph I have just taken, I just go about working on my project without a care in the world. Which is sort of the way it should be. At the same time I became a photojournalist in order to share my vision with as many people as I can.

It just makes me sad that corporate greed and shortsightedness is making it harder and harder…

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A Fifty Year Dream 
Tuesday, April 3, 2007, 15:37 - Commentary
Stuttgart

Happy birthday!

To the EU, that is. If you weren’t paying attention, the EU was more or less born on March 25th, 1957 when the Treaty of Rome was signed. Half a century later many of the goals of the signers, including a common currency and open borders, have come to fruition but the larger goal of creating a united Europe remains in some ways very much a dream.


15 Stars. © Damaso Reyes

People often ask me why I am working so hard on this project. Sure I get to travel, drink good beer and meet interesting people, but the real reason is that I believe in the idea of Europe. The EU has the potential to become not just an organization but a real force for change in the world. There are many, myself included, who are not big fans of current American foreign policy. At the same time most people feel there is little, if anything they can do to affect the status quo. But if the nations which make up the EU could put aside their differences and work together, say in the realm of foreign policy, then they could serve as an effective counterweight to what is perceived and American hegemony and push forward their own agenda of a more just world.


High over Berlin. © Damaso Reyes

There are many here in Europe who fear that closer integration will lead to a loss of identity. Such fear is natural but at the same time largely unfounded. Europe is changing no matter what, the question become just how will it change? Nations and people can retain their culture while at the same time joining into a union that is greater than themselves. The best example might be that of marriage. Yes, I know half of all marriages end in divorce but then explain to me why billions of people continue to take the plunge? It is because we still aspire to something greater than ourselves. And just as one doesn’t lose one’s identity in a healthy marriage the nations of Europe will not become a bland mélange the more integrated they become. These cultures and identities have been forged over centuries and it will probably take as long before they change, but the benefits of a closer union are there for the taking. If Europe doesn’t simply want to be a passive spectator in the world in which it lives then it will have to pool its resources and come together.

Now let’s all eat some cake.


Mmmmmm....Cake.... © Damaso Reyes


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April Fools! 
Sunday, April 1, 2007, 18:31 - Commentary
Stuttgart

In keeping with the festive nature of the date, here are some funny articles.

I know that you believe that all journalists are criminals, now here is your proof!

And since they are criminals, why not watch them be attacked by bears, cats and elephants?



© Damaso Reyes
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ESA 
Friday, March 30, 2007, 02:44 - Travel
Stuttgart

Sorry I haven’t written in a while, when I got back from Hamburg I was laid low by a nasty little virus that pretty much kept me in bed for a few days. But now I am back in fine form!


On a World Tour. Global NO2 pollution map for 2006. Photo courtesy of ESA/KNMI/IASB

On my way back from Hamburg I stopped in Darmstadt for a meeting at ESA, the European Space Agency, which has its Space Operations Center there. Ever since I was a kid, I was always fascinated by the stars so it was very exciting to have an opportunity to visit the place where the satellites are controlled and missions are planned. Special thanks to Nicola Gebers de Sousa for taking me on an exciting tour. This was just a preliminary meeting so sadly there are no photos but stay tuned in the coming months…

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High Tech in the Brain 
Tuesday, March 27, 2007, 01:20 - Shooting
Hamburg

There are days when my job, as great as it is, is difficult. Days where I stand in the rain, a piercing wind slicing through me. Days where I walk for miles to nowhere, alone with only a heavy camera bag to console me.

Then there are days like today where I get to photograph a really cool brain surgery and that I am sure that I have the coolest job in the world. Today I visited the operating room of the Neurophysiology department of the University of Hamburg-Eppendorf. Big thanks to Dr. Engel, director of the department and Dr. Moll for letting photograph his OR. These doctors are doing cutting edge work placing small electrodes in the brain to counteract the devastating effects of neurological disorders like Parkinson’s Disease. The patient was awake the whole time as the doctors used a tiny probe to find the area of the brain that was causing the trouble and the optimal location for the electrodes. It was amazing to see the results on the patient, who had a severe tremor in his hands and legs as they passed a small current into his brain. The shaking subsided and eventually stopped altogether.


Watching the probe. © Damaso Reyes


Millimeter, by Millimeter they go deeper. © Damaso Reyes


40mm deep. © Damaso Reyes


© Damaso Reyes


Sistine. © Damaso Reyes


Test. © Damaso Reyes


In & Out. © Damaso Reyes


Another Small Hole in the Head. © Damaso Reyes


Neurosurgeon's Have Style. © Damaso Reyes


Dr. Reyes (for a day) © Damaso Reyes

We are really living in the future!

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Hafen Hamburg 
Friday, March 23, 2007, 18:42 - Travel, Shooting, Personal
Hamburg

Well I have to say that Hamburg is pretty amazing. I am having a great time, taking photos and running around town. I am lucky enough to be staying with my friend Ewa, who I met at Solitude during a symposium a few months ago.

Today I shot at the Port of Hamburg, much thanks to Christian at the port for facilitating the trip. Hamburg is the second biggest port in Europe and the largest by far in Germany, bringing tens of thousands of containers into the country every day and shipping them out as well. That Porsche you drive probably came through the Port of Hamburg. The day started cold but clear as we drove along the warehouses and cranes to the slip where a recently docked ship form China was being unloaded. As you can imagine the scale of everything at the Port is huge from the 40 foot containers to the 40 meter cranes that unload the ships which are longer than football fields. Giant blue container moving cars zip along the wharves looking like something out of a Lego set gone crazy. Containers were sacked six high, creating instant neighborhoods of corrugated steel. The little kid in me loves all the big trucks and ships and I had a wonderful time photographing them, at least until the rain and wind picked up towards the end of the afternoon, but my long underwear and waterproof Mountain Hardwear coat, pants and hat kept me warm and dry throughout.


An ocean of containers. © Damaso Reyes


My ship has come in. © Damaso Reyes


Up and Away. © Damaso Reyes


Big Wheel, Keep on Turning... © Damaso Reyes


Container Movers. © Damaso Reyes


Temporary City. © Damaso Reyes

Today is also a happy anniversary for me as well. Twelve years ago I truly began my journey as a socially conscious adult. That warm day in March I went to my first demonstration, where thousands of students from the City University of New York had gathered to protest rising tuitions. City Hall Park in lower Manhattan was jammed with placard waving and chanting young college students. I was there with my camera and documented it all including when the police broke up the end of the demonstration. I felt alive, excited by the energy of the students and the passion with which they protested. I became in the movement myself giving speeches and organizing demonstrations and that day set me on the road of journalism with the idea that a few, motivated people can change the world. Every year I think about that day and how different my life might be if I hadn’t gone downtown that day. Life is full of twists and turns and I when I look back at my short life I am amazed at where I have been and how far I have come. I feel lucky to be living a life without limits, one where I can go as far as my talent and passion can take me.

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Off to Hamburg... Interlude.. 
Wednesday, March 21, 2007, 18:59 - Personal
En Route to Hamburg

So I am off to Hamburg for about a week. I will be shooting at the port there and hopefully a few other places. In the meantime, another interlude to satisfy the masses…

Date Unknown
Brooklyn, New York

In all honesty all I really have is memories of my father.

Recently my mother called me to let me know that it was his birthday. He is well into his 70’s and makes somewhat frequent trips to the hospital. Other than my mother there is no one in my family to whom I am close, and most people would even dispute that I am even close to her.


At my Mother's house. © Damaso Reyes

My father and I are separated by many things.

Age

Culture

History

I couldn’t be more different than he is if I had planned it. Yet without him I wouldn’t be here. A few years ago I sat down and, like a good journalist, I interviewed him. You see I don’t know much about my father. He has always been around but never been there. Since I could remember he has been less than a kilometer away but never within reach. He left not too long after I was born. He settled close by, started the semblance of a new family but he never disappeared. He and my mother have always been good friends despite what happened.

He was always the man with five dollars for me, twenty on my birthday.

He was the man who took me to work with him once in a while when I was on summer vacation.

He was the man I always saw before I could forget him but that I never really remembered.




My Father's Shoes. © Damaso Reyes

He was always taller than me; he still is.
As some of you know I am the last of three children. There is an eight year gap between me and my sister, ten between me and my brother. I was in no way planned but somehow I became the hope where there was none.

I have exceeded expectations.

I have fulfilled dreams.

When my father came to this country he could not have imagined me. He could not have dreamed that I would question mayors and cabinet members; that I would stand in the same room with royalty and photograph the rich and famous. He could not have believed that I would be who I am and who I still could yet become.

I am not angry that he was not there. He seems to have had his reasons.

But I miss what we never had.

I do not enjoy our strained moments when he occasionally stops by.

There is no question that I am his son but I wish there was a way that I might have known him better.

But he brought me into this world and for me that has been enough.

He has smiled at my successes, even if he hasn’t truly understood them.

I am what he couldn’t become and perhaps that is the true meaning of fatherhood: reveling in the life that you have brought forth.

I don’t know. I am not a father. I haven’t disappointed anyone on that level….

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Interlude... 
Saturday, March 17, 2007, 21:16 - Travel, Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart

So I have been somewhat busy editing photos, taking long walks in the woods and planning some shoots for next week so I haven’t been blogging too much. But I promise that soon you will see the fruits of my labor, or at least the vegetables. In the meantime I think I will begin a series of interludes describing some past experiences so you can get to know me and my work a little better…

March 30, 2004
Kibuye, Rwanda


The hole was already a meter and a half deep by the time we arrived. The drive took over an hour, first over the newly paved roads which had recently been constructed and then over gravel and then dirt roads which took us continually west towards Kibuye, a small town which overlooks Lake Kivu.

The day began with a clear blue sky but as we headed west and up in altitude a fine mist began to envelope our Landcruiser. As we continued along the pothole filled roads I watched the hilly landscape through the occasional breaks in the weather. The terraced rice patties, the gentle slopes and intriguing valleys kept me occupied for most of the journey.

This was my second trip to the Central African nation which ten years before had been gripped by a hundred day genocide which took the lives of more than a million people. Jimmie, my best friend, was sitting next to me in the car, equally lost in his own thoughts. Finally we arrived at the hospital where we were supposed to observe the exhumation of a mass grave which was dug and filled during the genocide. As part of the tenth anniversary commemoration the Rwandan government had encouraged citizens to find the remaining mass graves which filled the countryside and exhume the bodies in order to give the dead a proper burial. We were to observe one such exhumation.

Raymond Kalisa, a Rwandan filmmaker who was working for CNN during the 10th anniversary, was our guide and slowly we walked toward a spot under a large tree where many people had gathered. A young man in his early twenties was telling his story. He had been at the hospital at the time and had witnessed the massacre. He was sure that this spot was where the bodies lay hidden for the past ten years. With no preamble young men began hacking away at the soft earth, much the way it had been disturbed ten years earlier, with picks and hoes.


Searching for bodies at the hospital. © Damaso Reyes

For nearly two hours they dug but other than a few animal remains the dead remained elusive.
Our small group went back to our vehicle and set off towards the Lake where we were told that another, smaller exhumation would be taking place. Again, silence filled the car.

Thirty minutes later we were walking up a small hillside. By the time we arrived the hole was already a meter and a half deep, villagers, some incongruously wearing their Sunday finest, were gathered around the sides of a long, curving trench which had been cut into the hillside. They observed us with eyes that seemed to ask “why are you here?” Raymond told them that we were journalists here to document the exhumation. They returned to watching the trench, which was slowly growing deeper as men young and old took turns removing the sticky clay soil which buried their dead.


Digging up the past. © Damaso Reyes

Soon after we arrived a femur was found. It was carefully placed into one of the many empty rice sacks which had been procured for the exhumation. Soon more bones followed, then a skull. The onlookers watched on nearly impassively, occasionally pointing to some remains and whispering among themselves. Small children flitted about the edges, curious to see what was going on, unaware of the magnitude. These young souls had been born long after the evil that swept over their nation had left. The eyes of their parents bore silent witness to the horror that the landscape had endured.


A young child plays with a skull. © Damaso Reyes

Throughout it all I moved silently around and occasionally into, the trench, documenting the men’s work and the terrible product of that work. The camera protected me from the content of the images I was creating: a freshly discovered bone hoisted out of the trench; a skull slowly cleaned of the cloying soil which had kept it hidden for a decade; the decomposed dress of a two year old who had been brutally murdered and casually dumped into the trench. Roll after roll, I went about my work, trying to be a professional.

After two hours and twelve rolls of film I turned to Jimmie, who had been observing and occasionally speaking with the villagers. “I’m done,” I told him. He seemed slightly surprised but understood. “If I don’t have it already, I’m not going to get it.” He nodded his head as I sat down on a nearby rock and watched the villagers continue their work.


Bearing Witness. © Damaso Reyes

Five years earlier during my first trip here I was determined not to let me feelings get in the way of my work. What I realized afterwards is that it was not wise to let myself grow too distant from my humanity. Truly it was the thing which allowed me to do the painful work that I felt was my calling and to deny that would be to deny myself. Standing at the side of that trench, overlooking a lovely valley I knew that I couldn’t take anymore photographs. I had imposed on the situation enough and I knew that taking more photographs would be bad for my soul, or what was left of it.

There is of course this deeply rooted myth that when you photograph someone you take their soul. I believe the opposite is true. You can’t photograph something like an exhumation without leaving part of yourself behind. There is some kind of essential trade that happens when you photograph difficult situations: a piece of yourself for an image. We don’t get a high or take any joy when documenting other people’s pain, in way through creating a document of an event we share it, and often we would rather not. But in creating a connection between the viewer and the subject the photographer himself must act as a bridge. And that has an effect.


Searching the past. © Damaso Reyes

For me that day has remained with me and always will. When people ask me why I am an atheist, I tell them that story and the dozen others that I have borne witness to. No God I want to pray to allows such horror. When people ask why I don’t believe in God I ask them in turn why do they believe. For me that day simply confirmed what I already knew: the goodness or evil in men resides solely with them; we have no one else to turn to, no one else to blame….

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It's a Beautiful Day... 
Tuesday, March 13, 2007, 15:44 - Personal
Stuttgart

Of course it is a crystal clear day outside. There is no doubt that the sun is shining impossibly bright and that the birds are singing to each other that Spring is just around the corner.

Of course I am stuck inside, editing photos and sending emails.

Grrrr.



Lisa Martin, laughing at me. © Damaso Reyes
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Drug Reform 
Saturday, March 10, 2007, 18:17 - Commentary
Stuttgart

It seems as though the United Kingdom may join the increasing number of European nations which are moving to scrap their antiquated drug laws, The Guardian is reporting. What do you think, should soft and hard drugs continue to be illegal, punishable by stiff jail sentences? In America a large percentage of those who are in prison are there on non violent drug offenses, costing taxpayers untold billions. The main reason why most Black men in America are either in jail or on probation or parole is because of such laws. What do you think?


Skiing in Manhattan. © Damaso Reyes

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Month Two 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 15:54 - Personal, Project News, Commentary
Stuttgart

Well it has been two months since I left New York and arrived here in Germany. In that time I have traveled to a Munich and Cologne and shot and processed nearly a hundred rolls of film.


Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Cologne 2007. ©Damaso Reyes

Since I have been here time has had the dual sensation of moving slowly and quickly at the same time. On the one hand, it feels like I have been here for a long time, on the other, time seems to be slipping by. While I have been fairly productive I still feel like I am spinning my wheels at times, especially when it comes to setting up shoots at various institutions. I think that my stay here at Solitude has taught me to slow down a bit, to spend more time thinking and pondering what it is I am doing and for that I am truly grateful. Yesterday, after running some errands, I simply took a long walk in that park. As the clouds came and went I walked along the verdant paths and thought about the rest of the year, what I would like to be doing and about the long term prospects of the project. It was nice to feel like I had the time and space to think, indeed I think that outlook is going to be crucial to the success of the project. But alas my time here is also finite and I have to really begin to start searching for more long term financing for The Europeans if I am to keep going. As much as I distain the idea of being a business man I am going to have to start moving in that direction if I want to keep this up.

But for now I am enjoying the sanity that this fellowship is providing.

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33 Things about Damaso 
Wednesday, March 7, 2007, 18:12 - Personal
Stuttgart

While most of the people reading this blog are friends or search engine bots, there may very well be a few people here and there who don’t know much about me. So here 33 things you might find interesting, in no particular order…


Self Portrait. Rwanda 1999.©Damaso Reyes

1. I can go for weeks at a time without taking a photo
2. I haven’t cut my hair since June 17th, 1995
3. I sometimes get carsick during short car trips
4. I need about 10 hours of sleep a day, but watch out when I wake up!
5. I like really hot, really long showers, it’s where I do my best thinking
6. I generally don’t like to go to sleep before one or two in the morning
7. I don’t eat breakfast, I like to save myself for lunch
8. My favorite lens is the Canon Eos 24/1.4
9. I didn’t pay for a taxi until I was 17
10. When I find a new song I like I listen to it over and over again, like 50 times in a row
11. I only have five good friends. Are YOU on that list?
12. I can barbecue really well
13. I hate writing but under deadline I can write well and prolifically. I can also write 300 words on any subject on demand
14. I have made more money and won more awards for my writing than for my photography ;(
15. When I am working really hard I often forget to eat, sometimes for a day or two
16. I have very little body hair
17. I am found of the phrase “My mother didn’t come to this country so that I…”
18. I am a cat person
19. I like to write and receive postcards
20. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 20 years old
21. I can blow glass
22. I am a television junkie. I can watch a good TV series all day and all night
23. In winter I sometimes don’t leave the house for three or four days at a time
24. I always take ice in my drinks and I never use a straw
25. It always takes me at least an hour to fall asleep after I go to bed, no matter what
26. I wear shoes, trousers and shirts until they wear out
27. I am a registered member of the Green party
28. I like to read techno-thriller novels
29. I have trouble sleeping on airplanes except for the last 45 minutes of a flight
30. My favorite cocktail is a Tom Collins
31. I only like to wear v neck undershirts
32. I am double jointed in my thumbs
33. I have never worn contact lenses

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The Commission for the Standardization of Blankets 
Monday, March 5, 2007, 12:00 - Project News
Stuttgart

I know it’s hard to believe but I am not an expert in everything. Nor do I want to be. For a long time this project has been more or less a one man show. Well now all of that is about to change.

Last week I was reading a 1962 article from the Complete New Yorker that Ruthie gave me about the formation of the European Community which mentioned a “Commission for the Standardization of Blankets” which had been toiling in futility for several years. I am not sure that this group actually ever existed but it if didn’t, it does now and if it did, it has now been resurrected.

Today I am announcing the formation of the Commission for the Standardization of Blankets. The CSB is an ad hoc panel of experts from different fields who are interested in the goals of The Europeans and wish to use their knowledge and experience to advise and support the project. The role of the members of the Commission is largely to advise me in the execution of the project and to advocate on behalf of The Europeans.


Our gang. Kosovo 2005. ©Damaso Reyes

The first member of the CSB is Philippe Perreaux, a Swiss lawyer specializing in copyright issues. Interested? Do you want to join? Let me know…

Update

The Commission already has its second member! Jean-Baptiste Joly, Director of Academy Schloss Solitude has joined the growing number of fine human beings who are supporting The Europeans. Will you be next?

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Worker 
Thursday, March 1, 2007, 12:41 - Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart

I am a worker.

©Damaso Reyes

This is where I work.

©Damaso Reyes

I mix chemicals.

©Damaso Reyes

I open film canisters.

©Damaso Reyes

I make photographs.

©Damaso Reyes

Don’t forget it!

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