HCB Quote of the Week #4 
Saturday, September 29, 2007, 12:37 - Commentary

Just two more days in the Hauptstadt! I will try to make the most of them and see a few galleries and museums, hopefully the weather will cooperate. Here is our latest quote of the week, enjoy!

Remains of the war, Kosovo 2005. © Damaso Reyes

ďAs photojournalists we supply information to a world that is overwhelmed with preoccupations and full of people who need the company of images....We pass judgment on what we see, and this involves an enormous responsibility,Ē Henri Cartier-Bresson, "American Photo", September/October 1997, page: 77

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Fast Fertig! 
Thursday, September 27, 2007, 14:52 - Commentary

One more day left at Vanity Fair! It is amazing how quickly these last two months have gone by. The past few weeks I have been slaving away, trying to wrap up two articles for the magazine before I head back down to Stuttgart. You will be happy to know that I am indeed all done, letís keep our fingers crossed that they survive the editing process.

The Gate. © Damaso Reyes

Now my attention is beginning to focus on the next two months, and they will be quite busy indeed. I am pondering a quick trip down to Munich for Oktoberfest. Next month will also see my first trip to Paris where I will serve on the jury of a small photography festival. I also have plans to head to Heidelberg and spend some time at the National Cancer Institute. And somewhere in there I have to find some time to process and scan all the film I shot these past two months not to mention update my website! So donít be surprised if I am only blogging once or twice a week, I will be busy making the most of my remaining time here in the Federal Republic.

I am a bit sad to be leaving Berlin, I feel like I barely had much time to explore the city, but I am looking forward to returning whenever I can over the next few years. Even as much as I have traveling around Germany I still feel there is a lot more to discover, especially in the east, but then again I feel that way about Europe in general. The next two months should be very productive but I also want to carve out some time towards the end for some reflection on the past year.

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HCB Quote of the Week #3 
Saturday, September 22, 2007, 15:55 - Commentary

'Manufactured' or staged photography does not concern me. And if I make a judgment, it can only be on a psychological or sociological level. There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out to discover the image and seize it. For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which - in visual terms - questions and decides simultaneously. In order to "give a meaning" to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what he frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photos with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself. -Henri Cartier-Bresson

Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes
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Why Can't we, I Mean, You Know, Just Get Along? 
Wednesday, September 19, 2007, 15:47 - Commentary

I had no idea but it seems that Belgium is having some problems. The Walloons and the Flemish are not happy with each other at all. Apparently the Dutch speakers have had enough and want to break up the marriage. The French speaking Walloons say non.

Hard to believe that they are still fighting about the divisions in a nation created in 1830! I mean that is longer than Italy has existed, you would think that at a certain point they would get it together and say ďsure weíre different but weíre Belgian.Ē Apparently not. You can read all about it at the New York Times.

This is exactly why I am working on this project. If the Belgians canít get along in their tiny country what hopes are there of building something resembling a European Identity? I can only hope that somehow photographs can bring people togetherÖ.

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HCB Quote of the Week #2 
Saturday, September 15, 2007, 14:47 - Commentary

Greetings! Even though I am traveling I wouldn't want you too miss the quote of the week...

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin 2007

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression. I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us.

A balance must be established between these two worlds- the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate. But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean the rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organisation can stem only from a developed instinct. -Henri Cartier-Bresson
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The Dollar is going down like the popular girl in high school... 
Wednesday, September 12, 2007, 15:17 - Commentary

While I was doing some research online at work I came across this headline: Dollar hits fresh 15-year low. You can read all about it here and here but it basically boils down to: since Damaso has been getting his fellowship money in dollars he is S.O.L. Boy, I canít wait to get back to Solitude and those wonderful Euros they give me there.

What it's all about....

But it does raise a real issue. Basically I am going to have to start making my money in Euros instead of dollars. Think about it: when I make $1000 back in New York and then hope on a plane to Berlin or Rome it is only worth about Ä720. Once I land I am nearly 40% poorer! And trust me things are not cheaper here in Europe, beer being a notable and delicious exception!

So, as they say here in Germany, or would say if they were me, ich muss das Geld finden! Feel free to help out, suggestions are welcome! Maybe write a letter to the Treasury Sec? Light a little bit of a fire under him to DO something? Just a thoughtÖ.

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Six Years on... September 11th 
Tuesday, September 11, 2007, 15:04 - Commentary

Itís hard to believe that it has been six yearsÖ

The day after. © Damaso Reyes

For the first time since that terrible day, the 11th of September falls on a Tuesday, the same day of the week the attacks took place. It was a warm, bright and clear morning. The night before I was up late at a party for a newspaper and went to bed with few worries.

The view from Chinatown. © Damaso Reyes

Walking across the Manhattan Bridge after hitching a ride to the Brooklyn waterfront, I saw most of lower Manhattan covered in smoke. One of the first things I noticed when I got to the other side, and that which would linger with me the longest, was the smell. An acrid mixture of melted rubber, concrete and humanity, a smell lingered over New York for weeks. Heading down towards what would become known as Ground Zero I soon became covered in a fine, and then thicker coat of dust.

Walking towards the ruins. © Damaso Reyes

Before leaving home I wondered for a while about whether or not I should go and take photographs. In less than a minute I came to the conclusion that of course I should, Iím a photographer, this is what I do. I wasnít excited, more like resigned. I shot that day for about ten hours. And photographed for another five days. And then I stopped.

A fireman. © Damaso Reyes

The flames continued. © Damaso Reyes

For me New York isnít and wasnít just a place, it was and is my home, my birthplace. The towers were older than I was and I fully expected then to be around long after I was gone. I have photographed them inside and out. I especially enjoyed going to the top of one of the towers to the rooftop observation deck. I remember the first time I went up the Towers as a child and remembering that the cars looked like toys. And then they lay in ruins.

Grief. © Damaso Reyes

I suppose that day taught me that nothing is permanent. I also knew that on that day my country would start on a path that was ill-advised: revenge. What happened six years ago canít be avenged; the dead will never be satisfied. In those six years my government has killed many, many more and for what?

Missing. © Damaso Reyes

In the past six years I have traveled back to Rwanda, lived in Indonesia, gone to Tanzania and begun work on The Europeans. Thankfully I havenít been witness to anything as horrible as that day in September but I have seen a thousand smaller horrors. Yet my faith in humanity remains. I know we can do better, I know that we can live together and I believe that we will. The only question is how many of us have to die before that happens.

Peace. © Damaso Reyes
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HCB Quote of the Week #1 
Sunday, September 9, 2007, 15:23 - Commentary

Canít you see Iím working? Seriously I just realized a few days ago that the deadline for the Guggenheim Fellowship is at the end of the week so I am spending the better part of today, which of course happens to be one of the few nice days weíve had in a while, revamping my proposal. Letís hope that they are suitably impressed!

So I have decided to start a little regular feature called HCBís quote of the week. HCB is of course Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered one of the fathers of modern photojournalism. While doing research for a story I am writing about Leica I came across several of his quotations which are very illuminating and often very funny, enjoy!

HCB behind the Leica.

ďOf all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes a precise moment in time. We play with subjects that disappear; and when theyíre gone, itís impossible to bring them back to life. We canít alter our subject afterward.... Writers can reflect before they put words on paper.... As photographers, we donít have the luxury of this reflective time....We canít redo our shoot once weíre back at the hotel. Our job consists of observing reality with help of our camera (which serves as a kind of sketchbook), of fixing reality in a moment, but not manipulating it, neither during the shoot nor in the darkroom later on. These types of manipulation are always noticed by anyone with a good eye.Ē -Henri Cartier-Bresson, "American Photo", September/October 1997, page: 76

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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 wasnít 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 isnít today.

You will respect my authority! © Damaso Reyes

If the artists weren't dead or the art wasnít 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 canít 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 todayís 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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The Sum of My Parts... 
Wednesday, August 22, 2007, 15:46 - Commentary

I am an Artist.

I am a Journalist.

The two things are not mutually exclusive!

I am a Photojournalist.

After having a rather heated discussion last weekend about this with a friend, I figured I should clear a few things up for people still living in the land of "Photojournalism is not Art." Aside from being a journalist in the sense that I also happen to write words, I am Photojournalist, a visual journalist. If you happen not to take that phrase seriously you can stop here and read another blog.

If you agree, or at least are interested, then read on.

Bombed House, Kosovo© Damaso Reyes

I believe that I bring an artistic sensibility to journalism and a journalistic sensibility to art. Just as reporters can also be novelists, we photojournalists can also be artists. Now that is not to say that every photojournalist is an artist or that every image produced is a work of art (of course not every image a fine art photographer produces is art either).

As an artist, photojournalism is my lens, my particular set of constraints that I work through to produce my art. A painter can be a Surrealist; a sculpture can work exclusively in bronze; a filmmaker can belong to the Dogme 95 school; a fine art photographer can be a photojournalist.

Muslim Girls, Berlin. © Damaso Reyes

Photojournalism has its own discreet rules: I donít pose my subjects and try not to interfere in the environment; I try to take images that give the viewer a sense of what it was like to be there; I donít manipulate my images afterwards using PhotoShop to create more aesthetically pleasing images that are not true to what I saw. The point of photojournalism is to document and to inform and these are the ideals that I bring to my art.

Now as I mentioned earlier there are lots of examples of photojournalism that do not rise to the level of art; I should know, I have produced many myself. At the same time I donít believe that all photojournalists are artists (in fact not all photographers, painters, etc. are artists either).
Some photojournalists are only concerned with documentation and conveying information. Their images tend to be simple and straight forward, imparting the maximum amount of data in the least amount of visual time.

I think that a photojournalist, or for that matter any other craft person, must choose to become an artist. As applied to photography that means making aesthetic considerations an important part of the creative process. It is not enough that the photograph informs, it must also be visually interesting, if not pleasing. In my opinion photojournalism is most effective when it rises to the level of art. The visual considerations, especially in photography, are the means through which information is conveyed. An aesthetically bad image fails to engage the viewer and thus fails to impart the information.

It is for this reason that I believe that art and photojournalism are not mutually exclusive. I think that great photojournalism needs to be art if it is to truly be effective. Of course being an artist in addition to being a photojournalist gives me a different perspective. Because I am also an artist my interests and the subject matter I choose to pursue are different than if I thought of myself simply as a news photographer. If you take the time to look at some of my work, say from Kosovo or Rwanda, I think you can see some of what I am talking about. I choose to photograph scenes and individuals that I might not otherwise document if I were simply trying to get a news story.

Remains, Rwanda © Damaso Reyes

As an artist and a journalist I feel my viewers are best served not by showing the the obvious but what lies below the surface. For me journalism and art inform each other to create a hybrid which takes the best from both worlds to create something greater than the sum of the parts.

I want my photographs to not just be visually appealing; I want my viewers to learn something about the world and hopefully themselves, which by the way, I think good art should always do, no matter what the medium. I also want my journalism to stand the test of time and not just impart information about a moment in time but to transcend the instant and become a document and commentary both on who we are today and where we are going. Hence The Europeans.

I hope that explains a little about who I am and what my motivations are. I look forward to reading your comments and getting your emails.

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Back to School 
Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 15:04 - Travel, Shooting, Commentary

I made my way back to the SchŲmberg Childrenís Clinic to photograph the small school that they have for the patients. From the first time I heard about it I was very interested in photographing the teachers and students, much thanks to Dr. Uwe Petruch for arranging this visit for me.

Adrian gets a little help... © Damaso Reyes

Someone recently asked me why I was photographing at the hospital and I feel that they were not satisfied by my answer. I get the question WHY a lot , why Europe, why CERN, why the Landtag? Why, Why, Why?????

Music Class. © Damaso Reyes

My best answer is why not? Why isnít the Kinder Klinik worthy of being photographed? I guess the real answer to all of these questions is twofold. First, because I am here. Second, because it interests ME.

A Happy Adrian. © Damaso Reyes

Numbers Game. © Damaso Reyes

As much as I am trying to create a record of both what Europe is like now and how it is changing so that future generations can view their history in context, I am working very much for myself. I could spend all my time photographing what other people think is relevant or important but then it would cease to be my project, it would just be current events.

Science Experiment. © Damaso Reyes

So I go to places like SchŲmberg and meet people like Adrian and Daniele and hope that at the end of this long process the images I cobble together make some kind of sense. I can assure you that I am having a great time doing it!

Daniele in computer class. © Damaso Reyes
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Lost and Found 
Monday, June 11, 2007, 22:17 - Commentary

Why arenít you in Hamburg? Two different people asked me this question in the space of as many days and they, as well as you I suppose deserve an answer.

Of course my friends were referring to the anti G8 protests happening in Hamburg and other cities here in Germany, which played host to the event. Instead of photographing demonstrators voicing their opposition to global imperialism I was off taking photographs of expensive cameras and sick children. But again the question is why miss out on the biggest story of the month, if not year here in Germany?

A picture just for Conan! © Damaso Reyes

It is important for you to understand where I am coming from. For years, in fact for the bulk of my career as a photojournalist, I spent my time photographing demonstrations, protests, press conferences, fires and perp walks. Any kind of breaking news was of interest to me. At a certain point, in fact it was after I returned to New York from Indonesia, I realized that this was not the kind of work that I wanted to do. There are people who do it far better than I can and as I explained to someone this week I believe that when everyone is covering a particular topic or event (Iraq, Paris Hilton, etc) that is in fact a perfect signal to me that I should be covering something else.

Now if I had an unlimited budget and an assignment from a big time newspaper would I have been covering the protests? Perhaps, but as I told my friend Conan this week over the next few years there will be no shortage of protests. This project is not about a protest that happens this month; it is about the larger themes that are impacting on the lives of people living here in Europe. I have to stop focusing on the trees and start mapping the forest and sometimes, in fact most of the time, that will mean missing out on the story du jour.

I can live with thatÖ

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2nd Anniversary 
Sunday, April 15, 2007, 13:13 - Personal, Project News, Commentary

Happy Tax Day! Yes, today is the day when many of my friends back home are rushing to ensure that they have their taxes files (actually since the date falls on a Sunday they have until tomorrow at midnight to make sure Uncle Sam get his pound of flesh).

Today also happens to be the second anniversary of The Europeans. For some strange reason I chose this day to begin my journey into the soul of Europe, boarding a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport bound for London. Looking back at those heady times it is amazing how far I have come.

Anti-war activist Brian Haw. © Damaso Reyes

Before I began this project it took me a long time to make the commitment to spend God-only-knows how many years traveling and photographing throughout Europe. While it might not sound like a hardship assignment, it was not something that I took on lightly. When I began this adventure I had no idea how it would be financed, nor what kinds of images I would make, after all, exactly how does one photograph the changes Europe is experiencing as the European Union expands? How does such an abstract concept manifest itself? How do you capture something so ephemeral?

Iím still trying to figure it out myself.

Waiting in Amsterdam. © Damaso Reyes

One of the most insidious concepts one learns in school, especially art school, is the idea of certainty. More often than not we are trained not to explore, to try and to fail but to follow the more certain path, the one where our natural talents lie. I remember one moment in school when I was talking to a professor in his office towards the end of a particularly challenging class. He told me, with a touch of sarcasm, that he was going to let me pass the class. I shrugged my shoulders and thanked him, but I also informed him that the reason I took this particular class was to have a chance to stretch myself, to try something new rather than just continue taking the kinds of documentary images I already knew I was good at. My new endeavor produced few results, but not for a lack of trying. In effect I had failed but I had learned a lot through the process, something my professor didnít value as much as I did at the time.

Two years ago, as I had done so many times before, I set out on a path without knowing where it would lead. As familiar as uncertainty has become for me I nevertheless boarded that plane with a great deal of trepidation. As a photographer I never know what kinds of images I will make but that doesnít ease the fear that in the end I will make no images at all. An irrational fear to be sure I what I fear even more is the sense that my work has become easy, that the challenge is gone and no matter what I can make great images. When that happens I will be well on the road of decline.

Destroyed Home, Kosovo. © Damaso Reyes

So what has the past two years brought? Well I have shot in the United Kingdom, Kosovo, Spain, The Netherlands and this year in Germany. Iíve shot hundreds of rolls of film so far and taken thousands upon thousands of photographs. Year one saw an incredible burst of activity and travel. Year two I only worked on the project for ten days or so, most due to lack of resources. It was a year of contemplation and reflection; downtime I feel like I learned a great deal from. As I have said many times, this project is not just about taking photographs; it is about logistics, planning and fundraising, something I have always had difficulty doing.

This year will be the most productive of all, with me shooting for perhaps ten months out of the year. I am also living in Europe full time and plan to continue to do so for the duration of the project, a necessary but important step.

It's not going to Stop! © Damaso Reyes

I feel that the project is finally reaching a critical mass, one that will allow me to work faster, travel farther and delve deeper into Europe. It is an exciting time; I finally feel that the years of planning and hard work are starting to pay off. But it is also now that I must redouble my efforts. I must work even harder to spread the message of the project and to continue to expand my support network, without whom this project would not be possible.

For those of you who read this blog regularly I would ask that you consider what you might be able to do to help the project along. Advice is always welcome, so are donations
and sponsorships. But more than anything else this project needs forceful advocates. Each of you in your own way has the power to spread the message of what I am trying to accomplish. You are influence makers, power brokers and leaders. The Europeans will only truly become successful when there are dozens of people who are as passionate about this as I am. Think about the power that you can bring to this endeavor, how together we can show Europe and the world an image of itself that it has been reluctant to see: a people united by much more than what divides them.

Waiting in Berlin. © Damaso Reyes

If you dream of a world in which the desires of a few do not dominate the needs of the many, then join me. If you aspire to a life where our common values set the agenda rather than our financial interests, take up my cause. If you still believe in the power of the still image, in the power of art to move and influence our society then I ask you to join me on this journey of exploration. Finally, if you dream of the world as it could be, if you still have hope that people of good will can come together and change our society help me make that a reality.

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Three Down, Three to Go... 
Thursday, April 12, 2007, 16:44 - Personal, Commentary

Well it has been three months since I arrived here at Solitude and it has been an intensely interesting experience both personally and artistically. It has been a time of contradictions for sure. I feel like I have worked hard and at the same time not hard enough. I feel like I have taken some great images and at the same time not nearly as many as I would like. I think I am starting to understand Germany but I also know that I am just scratching the surface of this society. Even with a long term project like this one, where I am spending years of my life photographing I feel like I might not get as deep as I would like. At the same time I understand that I am far too deep in the forest to really see the trees.

Thinking in Jakarta... © Damaso Reyes

Perhaps that is the best part of my time here: having the freedom to think, something I have been doing a lot of. I spend a lot of time thinking about the future, where I will go, what I will photograph and how I will make it happen. Before I started this project I had no earthly idea how to answer any of those question, I simply had a vision and a shaky belief in myself that I might be able to accomplish it. Nearly two years into this endeavor I am actually managing to make it happen and with the Fulbright and Burns fellowships I feel like the project is starting to get some traction with someone other than myself. But there is a long way to goÖ

And the next three months? Well I do have a show here at the end of May to prepare for, which will take some time. I also plan on heading to Berlin later this month and traveling and shooting as much as I can with the time I have left. But donít worry, there will be more long walks in the woodsÖ

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The United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northern Ireland 
Tuesday, April 10, 2007, 20:07 - Commentary

The United Kingdom has always been proud of its ambiguous place in Europe. To paraphrase scripture, it likes to be in Europe but not of Europe. For me, two recent articles illustrate the pressures that Europe in general and the United Kingdom in particular are facing.

Muslims drink softdrinks too you know... © Damaso Reyes

The first deals with an old abandoned church which is being converted into a mosque. The second deals with the growing debate over civil liberties and security. Let me know what you thinkÖ.

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