Photo of the Day #49 
Monday, August 25, 2008, 12:59 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

As much as people take photography, and the work that photojournalists do for granted, the impact that our images have on the way people remember and interpret history is profound. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the events in Georgia are a stark reminder of the ways in which history repeats itself.

There is a great article in The Guardian about the Czech photographer Josef Koudelka who documented the Soviet invasion and its aftermath providing the entire world with some of the few images of what happened. Risking his life he took more than 5,000 images in one week of the invasion of Prague and smuggled the images out.

“The previously unseen images, though, are powerful for different reasons. They provide a unique visual record of 20th century history as it unfolded, an event of incredible emotional and political intensity that lasted a week yet changed the course of a nation for two decades afterwards. In one brilliantly composed image after another, Koudelka has also captured the energy of mass protest like no one before or since, an energy that flared from angry disbelief into violent protest and then faded just as suddenly. 'When I look at these pictures now, I can't believe I did them. Magnum could not believe it was the work of one photographer. I was everywhere because everywhere I looked in those seven days there is another photograph waiting for me. I did not have time to even think about the danger.'”

Who will watch the watchmen? Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

While everyone may have a camera, or camera phone, not everyone can be a photojournalist…

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HCB Quote of the Week #49 
Saturday, August 23, 2008, 12:47 - Commentary

It’s my last weekend in New York and as you can imagine I am super busy! Yesterday also would have been the 100th birthday of HCB. It is hard to understate the impact he has had on photography. I have felt his reach in my own work, especially as I travel throughout Europe. Happy birthday big guy!

Remembrance of things past. Berlin 2007 © Damaso Reyes

For a subject to be strong enough to be worth photographing, the relationship of its forms must be rigorously established. Composition starts when you situate your camera in space in relation to the object. For me, photography is the exploration in reality of the rhythm of surfaces, lines, or values; the eye carves out its subject, and the camera has only to do its work. That work is simply to print the eye’s decision on film. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Photo of the Day #48 
Wednesday, August 20, 2008, 13:02 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

If you haven’t checked The Guardian there is a great unconventional story about immigration. We’ve all heard about how Western Europe needs immigration to deal with its declining birthrate and all that jazz but of course one of the things people fear is the loss of culture and national identity. Well Steven Wells argues that immigration can help save and even infuse rock culture. Here’s a taste:

Where is everybody? Stuttgart 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“Meanwhile, the developing world is bursting at the seams with babies, toddlers and teenagers, many of whom would love to come to the West but can't because of bizarre racist immigration policies and the absurd and morally and intellectually indefensible (not to mention anti-democratic and anti-free enterprise) notion that workers shouldn't be allowed to live anywhere in the world they damn well please.

“The solution is obvious. The West needs immigration like the deserts need the rain. To stave off cultural brain death and save rock'n'roll we must throw open the floodgates of immigration. By doing so, the young will once again outnumber the nearly dead - totally revitalizing music and providing "us" with a new generation of both avant garde artists and audiences for avant garde art. Music in particular would experience the dizzying and exhilarating rush of input from dozens of other cultures, hopefully drowning out the dull, smug, self-referential, post-Smiths indie/hipster monoculture once and for all.”

That’s hot…

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Photo of the Day #47 
Tuesday, August 19, 2008, 13:31 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Sometimes we need to look at the past to understand what is possible. When we think of documentary photojournalism sometimes we spend more time thinking about Flickr and iPhone cameras than of what is possible when well trained artists do their job well.

Let us now praise famous men. Berlin 2006 © Damaso Reyes

A great documentary, highlighted in this article, seeks to remind viewers of what an important role photography plays in our conception of ourselves. “Documenting the Face of America: Roy Stryker and the F.S.A./O.W.I. Photographers,” provides an important insight into how the American government of all institutions used photography to highlight the impact of the Great Depression on ordinary people.

Many of the images you will see in this film inspired my own career and belief that images can make a difference. Check it out!

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Photo of the Day #46 
Monday, August 18, 2008, 13:17 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

So the time is ticking away until I head to France and of course I have more on my plate than I can handle. So I might not be blogging quite as much as normal but have no fear, at least they will be interesting posts.

I was on the New York Times website and there was a fascinating article about how ordinary people are using Photoshop to change their personal photographs.

“REMOVING her ex-husband from more than a decade of memories may take a lifetime for Laura Horn, a police emergency dispatcher in Rochester. But removing him from a dozen years of vacation photographs took only hours, with some deft mouse work from a willing friend who was proficient in Photoshop, the popular digital-image editing program.

Like a Stalin-era technician in the Kremlin removing all traces of an out-of-favor official from state photos, the friend erased the husband from numerous cherished pictures taken on cruises and at Caribbean cottages, where he had been standing alongside Ms. Horn, now 50, and other traveling companions.

“In my own reality, I know that these things did happen,” Ms. Horn said. But “without him in them, I can display them. I can look at those pictures and think of the laughter we were sharing, the places we went to.”

“This new reality,” she added, “is a lot more pleasant.”

I see what you did there… © Damaso Reyes

One of the challenges we photojournalists face is to accurately (however you define it) portray the world and people around us. While it is not true, people have believed that photography, especially photojournalism does this. But now people are rewriting and recreating their own lives. What does this do to the way we see the world?

When we lose our faith in the veracity of the image, or at least the idea that photographs are by default honest representations of our world, will we believe the images that show us parts of the world we would rather not see like atrocity or injustice?

Clearly our relationship to the image has evolved with the medium but I do feel like we are nearing a watershed moment where we will have ubiquitous access to imagery because of mobile phone cameras and the internet and at the same time not believe most of the photographs we see.

As someone who works to expose what we often ignore I can’t help but feel a little nervous!

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HCB Quote of the Week #48 
Saturday, August 16, 2008, 14:22 - Commentary

For those of you counting it is just two weeks until I head to France! I am as excited as you are to get back to shooting but there is a LOT to do between now and then. So I will get back to it but enjoy your HCB Quote of the Week!

Structure and form. Paris 2007 © Damaso Reyes

The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Photo of the Day #45 
Friday, August 15, 2008, 11:22 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

If you have time check out this super interesting article about a scientist who has developed a genetic map of Europe.

“The genetic map of Europe bears a clear structural similarity to the geographic map. The major genetic differences are between populations of the north and south (the vertical axis of the map shows north-south differences, the horizontal axis those of east-west). The area assigned to each population reflects the amount of genetic variation in it.”

What I find interesting about this is that a map like this could be a thing of the past in another few generations as more and more Europeans move about the Union and marry each other and intermingle those so called “pure” bloodlines.

What about you? Are you of mixed heritage? Where do you fall on this map?

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Photo of the Day #44 
Thursday, August 14, 2008, 15:14 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Once again those rebels at The Guardian are writing about drug reform in the United Kingdom, more specifically about the need for it.

“I joined the unit more or less agnostic on drugs policy, being personally opposed to drug use, but open-minded about the best way to deal with the problem," he wrote on the blog. "I was certainly not inclined to decriminalise. However, during my time in the unit, as I saw more and more evidence of 'what works', to quote New Labour's mantra of the time, it became apparent to me that ... enforcement and supply-side interventions were largely pointless. They have no significant, lasting impact on the availability, affordability or use of drugs," said Julian Critchley, the former director of the Cabinet Office's anti-drugs unit.

Give the people what they want? © Damaso Reyes

Several nations in Europe, most notably The Netherlands, have largely decriminalized the use of so called soft drugs like pot and even harder drugs like cocaine. What seems clear is the “war on Drugs” as we call it in America has failed. Prices have gone down and usage has gone up. Just like during Prohibition people find a way of doing what they want, even if it is illegal. The question is how much time and money should society spend trying to stop them?

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Photo of the Day #43 
Wednesday, August 13, 2008, 11:55 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Keeping with our economic focus this week, we learn from the New York Times about the economic slowdown that is gripping the United Kingdom. It seems like more than a few dodgy mortgages were sold there as well and home prices are falling while inflation and unemployment are edging up.

Where’s my rising tide? London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

As much as we like to think that E.U. economic policy is harmonized in reality it is not. Member states have a great deal of freedom and some even regularly violate the stability pact meant to keep budget deficits in line. Many critics have said that individual nations need the free to react to individual national economic situations but in this day and age, where we are globally connected, especially within the Union how true does that statement remain?

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Photo of the Day #42 
Tuesday, August 12, 2008, 15:00 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Just like in America, much of Europe, especially Western Europe, is getting old. Of all the issues this demographic push brings up, none is more fought over than pensions. While many Americans my age don’t really believe that Social Security will be there for them to fall back on when they retire, the generous benefits that exist in Europe are a sacred cow.

The slow decline. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

But as we read in an article in the New York Times, more and more European nations are moving to overhaul their pension systems even raising the retirement age. Clearly this important issue will continue to dog European voters and politicians and the number of retirees continues to grow over the next few decades and fewer and fewer young people replace them in the workforce.

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Photo of the Day #41 
Monday, August 11, 2008, 14:26 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

As many of you already know, a small scale war of sorts has been going on over the past few days between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia. It started when Georgia increased military operations to try to reclaim the province which has insisted on independence for the better part of the decade. Moscow, always interested in keeping its former satellites weak, has encouraged this even as it has brutally fought its own separatists in Chechnya.

A sign of things to come? © Damaso Reyes

So what does all this mean? Well the interesting question many Georgians have asked as Russian forces bomb their capital is where is the United States and the European Union?

Ten years ago Russia was in a shambles in all senses: economically, politically and militarily. The strong hand of Vladimir Putin and rises prices for oil and natural gas has given Moscow power again. One reason why you don’t hear more than strongly worded statements coming from Europe is the Russia is one of the largest suppliers of natural gas to the European Union. This of course puts E.U. member states in a bit of a pickle: if they get in Moscow’s way they may find their shipments of gas inexplicably detoured, as the Ukraine discovered several times in the past few years.

It seems like the conflict in Georgia is winding down since Moscow has made its point, showing their smaller neighbor who is the tough guy in the region. But for those who fear the Russian bear this most recent conflict is a bad omen…

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HCB Quote of the Week #47 
Saturday, August 9, 2008, 07:04 - Commentary

For those of you in New York, I will be presenting a slideshow of images from The Europeans today at 4:30 at The Spark, which is located at 161 West 22nd Street (6th & 7th Ave).

If you can’t come don’t worry, I plan on doing a few events this fall upon my return. In the meantime enjoy your HCB Quote of the Week!

The handwriting on the wall. Paris 2007 © Damaso Reyes

Drawing with its graphology, elaborates what our consciousness grasps in an instant
. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Photo of the Day #40 
Friday, August 8, 2008, 12:59 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

If we read a recent article in the EU Observer we can see what happens when nearly the nearly thirty member state of the European Union can’t coordinate their foreign policy.

“Twenty EU states will begin welcoming Kosovo passport holders after Pristina started issuing the new documents on Wednesday (30 July). Slovakia will not allow entry however, while the six other EU countries that do not recognize Kosovo have not made their position clear.”

Can we has passports? Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

Countries including Spain, Greece and Portugal have not recognized Kosovo as an independent nation. The problem of course is that most countries in the E.U. are members of the borderless Schengen treaty zone which allows for free travel. So someone can legally enter Germany with their Kosovo passport but they can’t go to Spain even though there is no border control.

The issue of Kosovo is a prime example of why the E.U. needs a coherent foreign policy and the dangers of one. Nations like Spain with its Basque separatists don’t want to recognize Kosovo because they don’t want their own people getting any fancy ideas. At the same time it is clearly untenable that most of the E.U. recognizes Kosovo and a few don’t. I imagine at some point soon all the E.U. will have formal relations with Kosovo.
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Photo of the Day #39 
Thursday, August 7, 2008, 13:51 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Since immigration is one of the core themes of my project it makes sense that we talk about it quite a bit. I think it is hard to underestimate the transformative effect that a borderless Europe is having. An article in Der Spiegel talks about how many Eastern Europeans are now choosing to stay home rather than go abroad. The torpid state of the economy in many western countries is a part of it but the fact that many nations in the E.U. are so hostile to immigrants is surely another.

Me and my friends are leaving, goodbye! Cologne 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“Now, though, the debate may be changing. Indeed, should the economic downturn prove short-lived the UK and other Western European countries may eventually be wondering how they can attract more workers from the east. The outflow of laborers from countries like Poland may already be reversing.

“According to recent survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) in Warsaw, only half as many Poles are willing to work abroad as in 2004. Furthermore, UK government statistics indicate that the numbers of work permits issued to Eastern European immigrants dropped by 10 percent in 2007 against 2006. In the first quarter of this year, the number of permit applicants under the UK's Worker Registration Scheme -- which was set up in 2004 to regulate the inflow of workers from the new member states -- was the lowest it has been since the first quarter of 2005.”

Clearly this will have a negative impact on western economies. As much as foreigners are often maligned and blamed for the ills of society their cheap labor helps keep those same economies afloat. How long will it be before these same nations are begging for immigrant labor?

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Photo of the Day #38 
Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 11:07 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

We’ve been kinda down on the state of the discussion surrounding immigration in Europe lately but lo and behold there is actually a positive piece in the Guardian! The author interviewed twelve children who had recently immigrated to the U.K. and asked about their experiences. What’s nice about this piece is that we actually hear the voices of the immigrants, something very rare in the mainstream media.

Speaking truth to power! © Damaso Reyes

It’s a great piece and I encourage you all to check out the full text but here is one part:

Oliwia, 13, moved from her two-bedroom flat in Slupsk, Poland, in 2006 with her mother, who was looking for work. They now rent a room in Harrow, northwest London. Her mother works as a cleaner and studies English at college. Oliwia goes to school in Hounslow.

How did you find out you were moving to the UK?

My auntie was living in England and when she came back to visit us my mum said, just for a joke, that we would move there too. Then my mum thought about it seriously. She showed me our tickets and I opened my eyes and I was like: 'It's my dream come true.'

Why did you move?

In Poland they don't want that many people to work if they're quite old. Over here you can do whatever work you like. My mum doesn't speak English well so she's a cleaner now, but she's learning English so she can look for other work. She'd like to work in a shop.

What happened the day you left?

Grandma and grandpa took us to the airport. I had a diary and my mum wrote me a message saying that on this day our lives would change completely. It was really nice but quite sad.

What was your old home like?

I lived in a flat at the top and I had my own room. It was about 20km to the beach. In the summer holidays we'd go to the seaside.

How was your first day at school?

My first day was scary. I didn't speak English well so I didn't understand a lot, but it was fun.

What are the other children like?

In Poland you only have people from Poland but here you have people from all different countries. Some people are racist; I tell them to stop or I just ignore them.

What do you like most about living here?

Fast food. It's really cheap but it's so tasty.

What do you miss most about home?

My grandma and my grandpa. I used to spend all of my summer holidays with them.

Where will you live when you grow up?

Maybe somewhere really hot but maybe not, because then there's a lot of spiders, so I think this is the best country because it's quite warm.

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