Happy New Year! 
Monday, January 1, 2007, 18:33 - Travel, Personal
New York City


I have been joking to my friends that 2007 will be the “Year of Yes.” Not so much for me, mind you, more about getting other people to say yes to The Europeans.

Once again I find myself at the beginning of a new year having no real clue as to where I will be when it ends. While to some this might seem like a terrifying prospect I relish the idea of not knowing exactly what twists and turns the next 365 days have in store. There’s little doubt that the next six months will be challenging, learning a new language and culture, not to mention taking as many photographs as humanly possible. But after that? Almost certainly France for a month long residency, then perhaps a trip to Scandinavia, more details as they become available. But I am still waiting to hear about the Fulbright and the Guggenheim not to mention a couple of other residencies.


New Year's Eve in Indonesia, 2002 ©Damaso Reyes

Yesterday I went to New Jersey to visit my very good friend Al Somma, who is recovering from a spinal cord injury at a rehab center there. All told he is doing remarkably well and hopefully this year will find him back home writing, where he belongs. During our conversation I told him how much I enjoy traveling and how it teaches you so much about yourself and your culture, something we Americans are accused of caring nothing about. I also mentioned that before I started this project I had no idea what kinds of images I would create but here it is nearly two years later and many of my favorite images are ones that I have taken during the course of this project.

Heading out to Germany in less than a week and once again I have no idea of what images I will encounter but for some irrational reason I have faith that I will find some wonderful ones and they will bring me that much closer to a cohesive body of work.


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Two Weeks Notice 
Sunday, December 24, 2006, 19:42 - Travel, Personal

Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. ©Damaso Reyes

New York City

So I have given New York City my two weeks notice! A fortnight from now I will be off to sunny Stuttgart and as is usual before I head out on an extended trip I have been trying to do all the “New York things” I can think of.

I’ve strolled through Riverside Park, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, been to the Met and the Whitney and in between I am systematically eating at my favorite restaurants, which I discovered the hard way is the most important thing to do.

I was about two weeks into what would become a year and a half long trip to Southeast Asia when I was hit with an acute bout of homesickness. No, I didn’t long to see a Mets game, or watch the glowing skyline of Manhattan as I took the train over the Williamsburg Bridge. It turned out that I was jonesing for a good slice of pizza, or a well done burger and fries or an extra spicy plate of chicken pad Thai from Planet Thailand.

New York is world famous for its diversity but most people who’ve never lived here simply don’t understand how spoiled you can get by having world class cuisine from any country in the world at almost any time of the day or night. Want good Chinese at 1 a.m.? I’ve got a place two blocks from my house. Like cheesecake? Junior's has the best. Nearly broke? Check out Gray’s Papaya on 8th and 6th, their recession special got my through college. Knowing the best places to eat is one of the things that makes a place feel like home and while I am sure I will be eating lots of great German food, what will I do without the Thai, Indian, Chinese and Mexican that I have come to depend on?

Of course within a few moths of living in Indonesia I was hooked on nasi goring and other tasty treats that the push cart vendors would prepare nightly right in front of your house. So whilst I will long for a chicken gyro from my favorite guy down on Broadway, I am looking forward to discovering the culinary delights that Germany has to offer.



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Studio Photography Magazine 
Friday, December 22, 2006, 16:27 - Commentary
New York City

If you find yourself needing a reason to take a few minutes away from the “joyous family celebrations” check out my article in Studio Photography magazine. Not only will you get away from your drunken uncle and spoiled nieces but you might even pick up something useful!


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Five Stages 
Tuesday, December 19, 2006, 05:03 - Travel, Personal
New York City


©Damaso Reyes

Everyone has faith, even if you are an atheist like me. We have faith that we will wake up in the morning, believe that the elevator will work, or that we will find true love. While my faith is not deity based sometimes I feel that it is no less abstract.

It seems like every step in my career has been an act of faith. The first time I went to Rwanda in 1999 with Jimmie Briggs he had enough faith in me to insist that I go on my first international assignment, over the objections of some who felt that I didn’t have the experience. I knew that I could do the work but of course there was nothing to prove this. In the end I think the results validated my faith but it is hard to describe how nervous I was before that flight.

When I left for Indonesia in 2001 with $400 and a one way ticket I simply believed that things would work out. I knew all of one person on the ground but I knew that I would figure out a way of surviving. Of course in the end I certainly did, mostly through equal parts of luck and determination.

Now I am heading to Germany for six months and that old familiar feeling is coming back. Uncertainty. Anxiety. Doubt.

This may come as a shock to some people who might think of me as someone of unshakable conviction, something that always makes me laugh. But I think that if you don’t have some doubt then you aren’t a person of faith, you’re a fanatic.

This trip is in many ways better organized and more structured than some of my past endeavors, after all I have a fellowship, a place to live and a stipend, but the doubt remains. I doubt think it is so much about this trip, after all with all those things in place I doubt that I will have too much trouble getting some interesting images, it is more about the greater idea of spending the next five years or so based in Europe. It’s funny as secure as I am for the next six months I have already been thinking about what I will do for the second half of the year. Here’s to hoping that the Guggenheim Fellowship come through!

In some ways I feel like this is my version of the famous five stages of grief. Call it Damaso’s Five Stages of Travel Preparation:

Stage 1: Denial - The "This can't be real" stage: "This is not happening to me. There must be a mistake.” This is pretty much the same. While I know the trip is coming it is so far off in the distance that it is not real to me.

Stage 2: Nonchalance – The “Casual indifference” stage: “Yeah I know I’m leaving soon, so what?” This usually happens about two months before I leave.

Stage 3:
Depression - The "Defeated" stage: "There is no way that I am ready for this, how could I have come up with this silly idea?” Again this is pretty much the same as the classic model. This usually pops up about a month before I leave. It is also tied into not wanting to leave New York, which is in addition to being an amazing city, my home town.

Stage 4:
Acceptance - The "This is going to happen" stage: “I'm ready, I can’t fight it anymore...” About two weeks before I leave I give in to the fact that A: I’m not ready, B: I’m probably not going to be totally ready, whatever that means and C: I am still going to leave.

Stage 5: Excitement – The “I’m getting outta here, thank goodness” stage: About five days before I leave I finally start getting excited about my trip.

Right now I am somewhere between 3 and 4….

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Not again! 
Saturday, December 16, 2006, 21:46 - Personal
New York City

So yesterday I dropped off my portfolio at the Guggenheim Foundation. Today I received a letter from them saying: “Your communication of photographic prints has come to hand. It will receive due attention.” I always enjoy the formal tone to their correspondence , let’s hope that things break my way and I get a happy letter in May. Thanks to Audrey, Elinor, Patrice and Djibril for writing what I am sure are great recommendation letters. I will keep you all posted on what happens.

After that fun trip to 5th Avenue I met my good friend Jimmie at, wait for it, Peter Luger’s! Twice in one week, I know it’s a bit much but he couldn’t be there on Monday so he graciously offered to take me on Friday and I enjoyed every bit of it. Man, I am going to miss that good eating but then again I am going to the land of beer and bratwurst so I imagine that I will do okay.


Mmmmm...steak.... ©Damaso Reyes
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Tickets please 
Thursday, December 14, 2006, 18:24 - Travel, Project News
New York City

Well, it’s official, I’m outta here. I finally bought my ticket to Stuttgart and will be leaving on January 7th. I know it’s hard but don’t cry, I’ll most likely be back in September. But in the meantime I am encouraging everyone I know to get a headset or a webcam with mic so we can chat online using Skype or one of the dozens of other messaging like AIM or Yahoo! My spanking new laptop has a built-in webcam so I am all set, but how about you?

The closer I get to leaving, the more anxious I get. I’ve done this before, for even longer so it is not simply the fear of the unknown, though that is part of it. I will miss my friends and family that I will leave behind since I will be spending the vast majority of the next few years in Europe. But I am someone who thrives on familiarity, as much as I enjoy exploring. For me it’s the little things, trying to find the right bus, figuring out a menu in a foreign language that make me edgy.

At the same time I know that I will be meeting lots of new and interesting people and making the kinds of images that I dream about. For at least six months I would have to worry about rent, or chasing down a check, a dream in and of itself. And because of that I am just as anxious to leave and finally get started. I imagine that the next six months will fly by so I will try to enjoy it as much as I can.

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Happy Birthday Baby! 
Tuesday, December 12, 2006, 04:25 - Personal
New York City

Happy birthday to me!


©Damaso Reyes


Amazingly enough I have made it to 28, please hold your applause. I did have quite the day though. Finally, after all these years I managed to go ice skating for the first time. I know it sounds silly but I had always wanted to go ice skating for my birthday but no one would ever take me. So thanks to Anna for finally stepping up and taking on the challenge. We went to Bryant Park where not only did we manage to not fall down but we got to go around in circles with the Empire State Building looking down on us, bathed in my favorite shade of blue.


©Damaso Reyes

But you’d be wrong if you thought that was all! After ice skating we killed some time having a nice cocktail at the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street. Not usually the kind of place I would hang out in, the high ceilings, wood paneling and dim lighting give you the feeling of being in a different era, not to mention tax bracket. It is also one of the few places that I can order a Tom Collins without worrying if the bartender knows how to make it.


As if that was all! After drinks we headed to sunny Williamsburg Brooklyn home of the best steakhouse in NYC Peter Luger’s. You can’t really describe what the food is like there except to say that it is like nothing else. My good friend Conan managed to escape from work and joined us for a truly spectacular meal. Cheers to him for graciously picking up the check!

Birthdays always give me an opportunity to take stock of the past year and see what I’ve managed to accomplish. The past year has been pretty good, my biggest regret, if you can call it that, has been that I didn’t get to spend more time working on The Europeans. But I always knew what starting next year things would kick into high gear so I tried not to obsess too much about what I wasn’t able to do. I did take lots of great photos from New Orleans to Tanzania, which makes me feel better about things. I can only imagine what I will be shooting next year…

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Katrina Show Opening 
Friday, October 20, 2006, 04:20 - Personal, Events
New York City

Tonight was the opening of the group show that I am in: Engulfed by Katrina: Photographs Before and After the Storm, curated by Deborah Willis and Hank Willis-Thomas. This show features show great images produced by some incredible photographers and I would encourage everyone in the New York area to come by, the show is up until November 19th.



There was live music, great food and a great panel discussion. It's these kind of events that make me want to exhibit my work more often, hopefully that's something that I will do more of next year as The Europeans kicks into high gear!
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The Road Home... 
Wednesday, October 4, 2006, 18:30 - Travel, Shooting, Personal
Aboard SwissAir flt 14 to JFK

I'm finally headed back to New York! Often short trips where you try to pack everything into a few days are more draining than a long one when you can take your time. While I did not manage to get to see nearly all of Berlin, I did get to do some shooting and I have some story ideas I do want to follow up on when I return to Germany next year.

As much as I would like to do one more trip to Europe before January I think my time, not to mention resources, would be better spent learning some German and otherwise preparing for next year, after all I don't know when I will be getting back to New York.

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To the German People... 
Tuesday, October 3, 2006, 18:20 - Shooting
Berlin

The Bundestag Dome interior

It's another crisp and sunny day here in the Federal Republic. Right now I am waiting in line to enter the Bundestag and it looks like it will be a little while until I get inside. Tomorrow morning I head back to NYC and I have to say it has been a short but productive trip. I even managed to shoot some film though of course not nearly as much as I would have liked. But I am ready to head back and get some work done. I'm also thinking of trying to take some German lessons when I get back in preparation for next year, anyone know a good place?



Exterior





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Remembering? 
Tuesday, October 3, 2006, 01:10 - Shooting, Personal, Commentary
Berlin

Today was cool and windy with the sun hidden behind what seemed like a never-ending series of gray clouds. I wandered around the heart of the city. I managed to make my way over to the Bundestag and the Brandenburg gate where some kind of festival and concert was happening (btw, what possesses people all over the world to perform bad covers of 20 year old American pop songs?).

I was walking south to Potzdamer Platz when I encountered the holocaust memorial. It really is a beautiful and somber place but of course that didn't stop kids from playing hide and seek and teenagers from getting high among the hundreds of black monoliths. How long does it take for a monument to lose it's meaning? Clearly the youngest generation seems to have lost what used to be called 'German guilt' but is it a good thing or not? I suppose it is important not to be a prisoner of the past or totally bound by the sins of our fathers but I have to say it was a little unnerving to hear laughter at the monument to six million dead.


Berlin's Holocaust Memorial

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Performance Art? 
Monday, October 2, 2006, 02:22 - Shooting, Commentary
Berlin

On my way home I passed by an art gallery that was having an opening and stopped in. An interesting side note: in America the booze at openings is always free, here you have to pay. So the theme of the show way adult oriented complete with performances. Nothing lewd but these Germans sure know how to have a good time! Now I am back at the flat, which by the way reminds me of some East Village tenements in NYC I used to hang out in during my irresponsible youth, trying to connect to the wireless but I can't seem to type it the incredibly long password my host set up!

Here's a camera phone pic.

All Tied Up...
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Another Brick in the Wall 
Sunday, October 1, 2006, 21:36 - Travel, Shooting, Personal, Commentary
Berlin



The Wall via camera phone

Here I am sitting on part of what's left of the Berlin wall thinking that's it's hard to imagine a more historic change than that one. But in many ways the slow transformation that Germany and the rest of Europe is going through is just as profound. Sitting here just gives me a little perspective on the history that I have been witness to in my short life and how much more I have to look forward to.


A mural of American Mumia Abu Jamal

Don't worry, I haven't spent the whole day thinking so hard. Earlier I went to three of Berlin's flea markets and picked up some gift as well as some great old postcards which you might be receiving if you're lucky! Tomorrow I think I will tour more of scenic Berlin and maybe some museums if they aren't all closed on Monday....

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Chillin' 
Sunday, October 1, 2006, 20:06 - Shooting, Commentary
Berlin

Last night was pretty laid back, I just had dinner with a fellow photog and his family. Afterwards I wandered around town, caught the end of an art gallery opening and walked home, no small feat given the distances involved.

On my way back I encountered a group of Punks who between drinks were trying to make some money washing the wind shields of cars stopped at the intersection. I was amused because this, like the graffiti you see everywhere here in Berlin, is something we used to have in New York. At first they were a bit wary but I managed to take about a roll of what I hope will be interesting pictures of the 'other Berlin'.

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Walking Around Berlin 
Sunday, October 1, 2006, 00:15 - Travel
Berlin

I finally had a chance to catch up on my sleep and nearly spent the whole day in bed! When I finally did get my act together I decided to walk downtown instead of taking the train and had a nice stroll along Karl Marx Allee, which was a real kick! The huge Soviet era building now all have lovely clean facades and the wide avenues made for good strolling. I managed to buy a sim card for my phone and a small map, something I should have done back home but for some reason I didn't.

Right now I am going to meet a friend of a friend who lives here and get oriented and maybe some tips for a good night out...

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