First Day in Vienna! 
Wednesday, January 2, 2008, 01:38 - Travel

Hallo vom Wien and happy new year!

Memphis celebrates in Brooklyn. © Damaso Reyes

I left JFK international airport on the last evening of the year with some reservations. As some of you know traveling does stress me out, especially when I am going to a new city and country. All the unknowns and things you can’t predict tend to weigh heavily on my mind; not to mention trying to get everything done before I head out. I also had a great month in New York. I got to see friends that I had been separated from for a year and spend time in my hometown. I was getting really comfortable but time waits for no man and so I got on my SwissAir flight and took off into the unknown.

The flight itself was fine though I didn’t manage to get any sleep. I landed in Geneva where I had a short layover and then took a tiny turboprop that was so small my head touching the cabin ceiling to Vienna. Snow streaked the runway as we touched down and I already knew from checking the weather that it was going to be much colder than in NYC but I was prepared. The taxi ride into town gave me a chance to glimpse the industrial landscape on the outskirts of town which looked quite peaceful covered by snow.

It took a while to find the right entrance but I finally made it to the MuseumsQuartier where my apartment is. The guard on duty looked a little flummoxed but after consulting several sheets of papers and signing various documents I got my keys and was shown into my apartment. Again I didn’t know what to expect but it is well lit and spacious, I will be very comfortable for the next two months!

Once I unpacked a bit I wandered around the complex, checking out the territory. One nice thing about this fellowship is that I will be in the heart of the city, where in Solitude I was surrounded by natured and had to commute to the city. I am looking forward to doing as much street photography as I can, though it will be pretty cold.

Tomorrow I will go shopping and run some errands so I hope to give you a little better sense of the city. Until then, bis bald!

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Back in Brooklyn 
Wednesday, December 5, 2007, 14:18 - Travel, Commentary

It’s like slipping on a pair of old gloves, being back in New York. As I mentioned to a friend it’s nice to walk around a city where you don’t need a map to find your way. Seeing friends and family has been a lot of fun and I feel that I am right back into my comfort zone after spending the better part of a year as an “auslander.”

In living color. © Damaso Reyes

The night before I left I was describing New York to someone who has never been there.

Fast paced
Occasionally smelly
Self assured

After listing the various attributes of my home town I suddenly realized that many of these same adjectives apply to me. While it shouldn’t have been it was a little surprising but I really am a child of this city. My rough edges annoy many people; my directness is sometimes seen as being rude; my self assuredness is mistaken for arrogance. Much like the city most people have very strong feeling about me, usually love or hate, there is very little in between.

And like New York I am okay with all of this. This is me, this is who I am. Yeah, I have my faults but I don’t want my life to center around pleasing other people. I think it is important for us to be who we are, after all wasn’t it Shakespeare who wrote:

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I remember first reading Hamlet in high school and how much my English teacher emphasized this line. The reason why we are still reading this more than four hundred years later is because the truth in it is so elemental. It’s not just that this is who I am; this is who I have to be. Like it or not I hope that you respect it.

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Goodbye Paris! 
Monday, October 15, 2007, 15:07 - Travel

Well my adventure here comes to an end! I am making my way back to Stuttgart this morning after an incredible six days here in Paris. I saw so much art, ate so much good food and yes, met so many nice people! Special thanks to Marie, Gregoire and Matthias for putting me up and showing me around town. I really feel a connection to this city and I am looking forward to coming back soon and often!

Cloud series. © Damaso Reyes
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Paris Je t'aime 
Thursday, October 11, 2007, 14:58 - Travel

The River Seine. © Damaso Reyes

It’s hard to know where to start! First, I completely understand why so many American artists have fallen in love with this city, it truly is beautiful. You can tell the difference between Germany and France as soon as you step on board the TGV. A little nicer, a little more stylish, a little more comfortable, it was a smooth and pleasant three and a half hour ride. I was staying with some friends in the 13th Arrondissement, a very pleasant part of town. Yesterday the jury of the photo festival met and we spent much of the morning arguing about photos. We managed to narrow it down to about ten but we will come together again on Friday to pick the winners. This is the second jury I have been a part of an each time I feel like I understand the process a bit better. While it is great to have a diverse jury; on our panel we had photographers, gallerists and industry executives, it can also be frustrating. Most of the time the winners are more compromises than anything else although I think that we have agreed on the first place winner, which is very strong indeed.

Stained Glass. © Damaso Reyes

Cross. © Damaso Reyes

Candles. © Damaso Reyes

Brought to you by the letter H. © Damaso Reyes

I spent the rest of the day wandering about. I walked along the Seine, visited Notre Dame and just took in the place. One thing I love about Paris is that it truly is a walking city, much like New York.

Facade. © Damaso Reyes

Today I spent the day hitting several museums including the Louvre and the Pompidou, which left me exhausted. You could spend weeks just going to all the museums and galleries in this city. The more time I spend here the more I think it would be a nice place to live for a little while, assuming I could find a way to pay for it!

I also saw that big tower they have here…

© Damaso Reyes
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Paris Bound! 
Tuesday, October 9, 2007, 06:57 - Travel

I am off to Paris for the first time this afternoon! I will be on the jury of the Aella Foto Latino festival as well as taking some time to explore and photograph the city. I look forward to telling you all about my adventures; have fun while I am gone!

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Return to Solitude 
Tuesday, October 2, 2007, 15:55 - Travel

So I arrived back in Solitude yesterday after a nice train ride from Berlin. Some of the faces have changed since July but the house remains as I left it, warm and inviting and I have already managed a short walk in the woods! I am very happy to be back in this environment after a busy two months in Berlin. I hope the next two months will be productive, if a bit slower. I am still debating whether or not to head over to Munich later this week to catch the end of Oktoberfest, let me know what you think I should do. Tomorrow I will head to the sauna for some much needed rest and relaxation!

Back to basics. © Damaso Reyes
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Dreden & Leipzig 
Sunday, September 16, 2007, 15:25 - Travel

The View from a bridge. © Damaso Reyes

Well it has been a busy two and a half days here in Dresden and Leipzig! It was great to meet up with the other Burns fellows here in Germany, some of whom I hadn’t seen since July. Our time here in the east has been both social and educational but fun all throughout.

History, remade. © Damaso Reyes

Sword and Shield of the Party. © Damaso Reyes

On Friday afternoon we met with a representative of the Stasi archives, Michael Beleites. The Ministry for State Security, as the German secret police were known has files on a huge percentage of the East German population and when the East German government finally collapsed there was a great deal of discussion about what to do with the millions of files that the Stasi has not managed to destroy. A law was finally passed which allowed people to view their own Stasi file and learn who was informing on them and how their lives had been affected by the state. Nearly twenty years later people are still applying to view their files and the historians are still working to piece together those files which had been partially destroyed.

Later that day we went further back into German history and visited the Green Vault, one of Europe’s most amazing treasure chambers.

Saturday brought us to Leipzig by train where we heard singing in one of the city’s historic churches and then went to the Leipziger Baumwollspnnerei, an old textile mill which has been converted into shops and artists studios. While wandering around I stumbled into the workshop of Philipp Neumann, a young German guitar maker. His innovative handcrafted masterpieces have a sounds that has to be heard in order to believe and luckily for me two master guitarists happened to be in his studio and playing. I spent about an hour drinking wine, photographing and listening to great music. A tough life, I know but I am willing to make certain sacrifices for my work!

Philipp, master guitar maker. © Damaso Reyes

Herr Jochen shares his passion. © Damaso Reyes

To wrap this up today we had a tour of the Museum in der “Runden Ecke” which was the Stasi headquarters in Leipzig. It was incredible to hear about how they operated in the very building we were standing in, less than twenty years ago. We saw the equipment the used and how they systematically observed and oppressed the East German people. It is a true wake up call for those who might be tempted to glamorize that period in history.

Father of the Revolution. © Damaso Reyes

Inside the house of terror. © Damaso Reyes

The Map. © Damaso Reyes

Prison Cell. © Damaso Reyes

No place you wanted to be. © Damaso Reyes

This week will be quite busy for me as I try to wrap up a few stories that I have been working on for Vanity Fair. I only have two weeks left in Berlin and I will try to make the most of them!

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Off to Dresden 
Thursday, September 13, 2007, 14:48 - Travel

Tomorrow I head out with the other American Burnsies to Dresden, where we will have our midterm meeting. It is a chance for us to talk about our fellowships, compare notes and make suggestions. We will also have a chance to see a bit of Eastern Germany and the city made famous in Slaughterhouse V. So I will catch up with you guys over the weekend and let you know how everything went…

No time for sleep, Dresden is waiting! © Damaso Reyes
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Documenting Doucmenta 
Monday, September 3, 2007, 15:31 - Travel, Commentary

Is modernity our antiquity?
What is bare life?
What is to be done?

These are the three questions that the curators and organizers of Documenta 12 say the show is organized around. I think you can guess what my response was.

Stuffed Giraffe anyone? © Damaso Reyes

I spent most of today wandering around the five different sites of the show with my friend Anu, who is in town from San Francisco. At least I wasn’t alone in my disbelief and disappointment. Ever since I was a fresh faced undergraduate art student in New York I had heard about Documenta, the fabulous art show held every five years in Germany which broke new ground and introduced the world to artists who would change the art scene.

Shiny art is my favorite kind. © Damaso Reyes

If Doucmenta was ever like that it certainly isn’t today.

You will respect my authority! © Damaso Reyes

If the artists weren't dead or the art wasn’t made twenty, thirty or forty years ago, then the work was almost universally bad both in execution and content. While we were walking through yet another gallery filled with pretentious post-modern art, Anu proposed the theory that the curators were displaying so much bad politically inspired art to subvert the good art that is being created and thereby reinforce what is currently popular in the art world.

Bad Art! Bad! © Damaso Reyes

I can’t say that I disagree.

Harvey Keitel makes an appearance, for no good reason. © Damaso Reyes

Of course there were some very good pieces, but they were few and far between. Anu and I were in agreement that much of the best work was by artists from the developing world. Most of the new work from American and European artists was either derivative or badly made. Most frustrating for me was the fact that there was a good deal of work by artists who were either already dead or who gained fame decades ago. The show seemed to be more of a celebration of the sixties and seventies than of work inspired by today’s world.

Finally we find something we kinda like! © Damaso Reyes

A few people seem to agree.

Compared to the giraffe, this is pure genius, don't you think? © Damaso Reyes

All of this left me with some very mixed feelings. On the one hand I feel like what is en vogue in the art world today is very different from what I am producing and that fact will make it even harder for my work to gain anything resembling acceptance. On the other hand so much of the work I saw in Kassel was God-awful that I feel like there must be space for well executed art that is rich in content.

One can only hope!

I can't believe our long national nightmare is finally over! © Damaso Reyes
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Off to Kassel, Remembering Katrina 
Saturday, September 1, 2007, 19:48 - Travel

So tomorrow I head down to Kassel for a few days to check out the Documenta art exhibition. Hard to believe that I have already been here in Berlin for a month and only have thirty days left to go. It never stops seeming strange to me how time can move both so quickly and so slowly. On the plus side I will be working and hopefully wrapping up a few stories for Vanity Fair this month and I will make sure to keep you post with all the details.

Protestor. © Damaso Reyes

Since you won’t be hearing from me for the next few days I thought I would post some images from my trip down to New Orleans in February 2006. This weekend of course is the 2nd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Crescent City and I traveled there six months later to document the first Mardi Gras after the storm and the state of the city. Below you will also find links to some articles I published as well.

Mayor Ray Nagin. © Damaso Reyes

A destroyed sports car. © Damaso Reyes

Dancer. © Damaso Reyes

Derek Beard, a Mardi Gras Indian.

Read the Articles

After the Storm: New Orleans in Transition

Black Small Businesses Struggle to Survive

New Orleans and the Death of the American Dream

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Back to Solms! 
Tuesday, August 28, 2007, 09:44 - Travel

So Thursday I head back to Solms!

Yes, I will be going back to Leica HQ, this time to interview Steven K. Lee, the CEO of Leica Camera for a profile that I am doing for Vanity Fair Germany. It took a little convincing but I am glad that my bosses decided to go with the story; it should be pretty exciting to talk with the man at the helm of one of photography’s most important companies. As a recent member of the Leica club it will be an exciting opportunity to check out the view from inside…

© Damaso Reyes

Let me know if you have anything you want me to ask him!

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Hamburger Heaven 
Sunday, August 19, 2007, 18:21 - Travel, Shooting

On my way back to Berlin now after a fun filled weekend in Hamburg! First I went to the Kunsthalle where I saw lots of interesting art including an exhibition about how the sea is represented in art, a very appropriate subject for this harbor town.

Art is Light! © Damaso Reyes

A Green Moment. © Damaso Reyes

Using that as inspiration I managed to spend a little time by the shore, something I miss in Berlin, which only has the Spree river to keep me company. While wandering with a friend I heard the lyrics to a song floating down from a restaurant. “Walk in the door,” the singer said. We looked at each other and decided the best thing to do was to listen to Fate and we walked in the door.

Kuno: Waiter, Bartender, Pop Star. © Damaso Reyes

The Blind See All. © Damaso Reyes

For some reason whenever I am in Hamburg I manage to go to the strangest bars and this one was no exception. Just as we arrived the band, such as it was, took a break and the man behind the bar took the microphone in hand and started singing old German Beer Hall songs. His style was rough but enthusiastic, as if doing the same thing fro decades had not dimmed him in the least. I had no idea that I had stumbled upon Kuno, the singer waiter.

Kuno has the Last word. © Damaso Reyes

Of course he is more than a waiter; he is also the owner of Zum Elbblick, located at Olbersweg 49 in case you are ever in town. When gently pressed he produced all kinds of press clipping including a DVD of a news show in which he was featured (no I haven’t watched it yet but stay tuned). He even had a CD, which of course he wasn’t giving away for free. I don’t know if it was his sandpaper voice or the blind accordion player who accompanied him but I thoroughly enjoyed my time and my reasonably priced beer!

Freedom is just another word. © Damaso Reyes

Relaxing by the Harbor... © Damaso Reyes

...Watching the ships go by.© Damaso Reyes

Yesterday I managed a quick trip to a flea market (as usual I couldn’t drag myself out of bed before noon!) as well as a trip to the St. Pauli Beach Bar. Apparently these “beach” bars have become all the rage in Europe these past few years. The idea is simple: just truck in some sand, set up a few palm trees and charge a little extra for the beer. Given the generally terrible weather this summer I don’t see how they stay in business but Saturday the sun managed to come out for a while and it was nice to have sand between my toes.

All the while of course the Leica was out and about, clicking away, and I think I got some very nice photos. All in all a good weekend!

Sunset. © Damaso Reyes
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Saturday, August 18, 2007, 17:11 - Travel

So while I am in Hamburg I thought I would give you guys an entry from the dead stories file. As a freelancer there are stories that you might love but you can’t find a home for. This is one of those, enjoy!

Punk Rock Missionaries in Times Square
By Damaso Reyes

New York City

“Sorry we’re late man, we were out with a friend at this bar until like four in the morning,” is not something that you would expect a young missionary to say to you but then again 24 year-old Lance Steinhibel is not your average fresh faced missionary on his first trip to New York. A few feet behind him his best friend and traveling companion Nate Smith was carrying the weather-beaten, seven foot wooden cross they have been traveling the country with up Broadway on their way to Times Square on their first full day in New York.

“There sure are a lot of people, is it always this crowded?” Lance, a resident of Kansas City, Kansas, asked a native as the pair walked through the crowd gathered in front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Station located on a small, triangular spit of land that every tourist seemed to want to be photographed on. Setting up shop in front of the Toys ‘R’ Us on 44th street, the pair were planning on spending the next three days carrying the cross from one end of Manhattan to the other, much to their dismay there wasn’t enough time to carry the cross to the outer boroughs, although they did manage to catch a Yankees game, sans cross, the day before.

“Well let’s see if we can do this in order,” Nate replied when asked how many other cities they had visited in the ten months that they have been on the road. “Seattle; Seaside, Oregon; Portland; San Francisco; Las Vegas; L.A.; Orange County; San Diego; Tucson; then Phoenix; the Mesa area; El Paso, Texas; Houston; Mardi Gras, which is New Orleans; we went home after that, we were home for Good Friday; Nashville; Atlanta; Miami; Key West; then back to Atlanta; then up to Charlotte, North Carolina; then Raleigh-Durham; and then Richmond for a day; oh yeah, then Charleston, we did Charleston before we did Charlotte; then we did D.C.; Baltimore; and Philadelphia.”

All that in a cramped, rusting, yellow and beige ‘77 Toyota camper barely suitable for driving, let alone living in.

“We get along because we love Jesus, that’s the plain truth,” Nate said with a laugh, acknowledging the tight quarters they often found themselves in during their cross country trip, the idea for which came to him in a vision. “I don’t know how we haven’t killed each other,” Lance commented.

With dozens of tattoos and multiple piercings between them, the casual observer might think the two would be more at home at CBGB’s down on the Bowery than toting a large religious symbol down to ground Zero for a prayer session, yet there they were, silently looking down into the pit that the World Trade Center PATH Station gives an excellent view of. Once they emerged into the dazzling sunlight, they took a moment to pray, then put the cross back together (it breaks down into two pieces to facilitate carrying and only took about five dollars of lumber to make), before setting up shop across from the fence that tourists have made into a makeshift shrine. Within minutes Lance was sucked into a theological discussion with a homeless street preacher/performer whose turf they had inadvertently set up on. For the better part of an hour Lance talked patiently with the man in the noon sun while Nate stood nearby holding the cross, speaking with whoever stopped by.

“Whaddya doin’?” A construction worker walking towards his flat bed truck asked impatiently in an accent located somewhere between Brooklyn and New Jersey.

“Just praying for the City,” Nate replied with an earnest smile, his lip ring glinting in the sunlight as he tried to shade his eyes.

“Oh, okay, God bless,” the construction worker replied as he got into his rig. While tourists from all over asked them to pose for photos with the cross, most New Yorkers shrugged and kept on walking.

“A lot of people get very caught up in what they think a Christian should be,” Nate told a reporter when asked how more conservative Christians responded to his Punk Rock persona. “It’s alright to go out and have a few drinks, you know? You look at the places Jesus went to and the people he was around, you know he went to a tax collector’s house? That just wasn’t done back then.

“The fact that we go have a drink at a bar with somebody enables us to relate to people,” he continued.

“I think we’re able to reach a lot of people that way,” Lance added. “People listen to us more just knowing that we’re real people, that we’re not just out there yelling and screaming at them.”

After a few hours of standing and talking in the brutal summer heat the pair walked around lower Manhattan a bit to see a few things they didn’t want to miss: the Stock Exchange, Lady Liberty in the distance from Battery Park. As Nate was carrying the cross up Greenwich Street, a middle aged Dominican street vendor abandoned his cart and took over carrying the cross for a few blocks. Inspired by the dedication of the two young men he swore that he too would build a cross to carry around the city before giving them a few dollars for lunch and hurrying back towards his unattended cart

“We believe it’s not about a religion, it’s about a lifestyle you live,” Nate said.

© 2007 Damaso Reyes
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Off to Hamburg 
Thursday, August 16, 2007, 17:05 - Travel

Well I am off to Hamburg today for a few days of R&R! Not that life has been especially stressful here in Berlin but it is always nice to change things up and Hamburg is a pretty nice city. So I will catch up with you guys on the other side!

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Finding Tom... 
Wednesday, August 8, 2007, 20:05 - Travel

So today I got out of the office to work on a story. As always, the universe has a wicked sense of humor. My Vanity Fair colleague and I took our rented car out into the German countryside hot on the trail of Tom Cruise.

At the Flughafen. © Damaso Reyes

First we went to Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, home to the historic Berlin Airlift as well as the flight school where Herr Cruise took so classic planes out for a spin. Then it was off to Groß Köris where we hoped to find perhaps where they might be filming. We talked to the mayor, we ate fish by the lake, I took photos in the rain.

Where are we again? © Damaso Reyes

We didn’t find Tom Cruise.

Another day, another Euro....

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