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 “sure we’re different but we’re Belgian.” 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 can’t 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 together….

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Published Article  
Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 12:34 - Events

I suppose good things do come to those who wait, but then again I am a big fan of clichés! My article about New York artists moving to Berlin has finally been published! I tried to get Vanity Fair interested but they passed. Fortunately for me the Burns network acted fast and my friend Allison introduced me to an editor at Der Spiegel Online. He read the story and gave it a thumbs up. You can read it here; let me know what you think…

Art for Art's Sake © 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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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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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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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 can’t 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 €720. 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 thought….

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

It’s hard to believe that it has been six years…

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, I’m a photographer, this is what I do. I wasn’t 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 isn’t and wasn’t 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 can’t 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 haven’t 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

Can’t you see I’m 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 we’ve had in a while, revamping my proposal. Let’s hope that they are suitably impressed!

So I have decided to start a little regular feature called HCB’s 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.

“Of 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 they’re gone, it’s impossible to bring them back to life. We can’t alter our subject afterward.... Writers can reflect before they put words on paper.... As photographers, we don’t have the luxury of this reflective time....We can’t redo our shoot once we’re 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.” -Henri Cartier-Bresson, "American Photo", September/October 1997, page: 76

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Little Help Please... 
Friday, September 7, 2007, 21:21 - Project News

So what is it I do all day?

It’s hard to put into words, but don’t worry, I am keeping busy, mostly working on articles and looking glamorous at the Vanity Fair offices. Hard to believe that I am half way done but it’s true!

In any event, lest you think that my star has risen too high, Jimmie and I cannot for the life of us find a news organization to support our application to the Pulitzer Center to go to Kosovo. Hard to believe I know but it is starting to drive me a little nuts. As much as editors complain that they can’t find good stories here we are like the pretty girl at the bar, waiting for someone to notice us. So if you know some editors, feel free to pull some strings. Check out the proposal below…

Domestic Violence Survivor. Kosovo, 2005

The Legacy of Rape

In 1989, when the Serbian government revoked Kosovo's status as an autonomous province within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, political analysts and activists in that country and abroad anticipated deterioration. The danger became more apparent with each passing year, even though the wars that engulfed the other parts of the former Yugoslavia did not spill over into Kosovo. By late 1996, a previously unknown guerrilla group called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began coordinating attacks against the Serbian police. Faced with limited options at that point, the West chose military action by NATO in 1999. Taking advantage of the NATO bombing, Serbian and Yugoslav forces "ethnically cleansed" more than 850,000 Kosovar Albanians, and killed thousands more. The NATO bombing eventually forced government troops out of the province, but not before serious war crimes had been committed-atrocities which continue to poison Kosovo's post-war environment, including rape and sexual violence.

Writer Jimmie Briggs and photojournalist Damaso Reyes are proposing a feature article on the post-war legacy of rape in Kosovo and the struggle for female survivors to achieve legal justice for their attacks. Of late, the overwhelming majority of media attention on Kosovo deals with the quest for independence from Serbia, but for Kosovar women there are more pressing issues. Many who survived attacks during the war do not want to report the rapes for a variety of reasons. Some women victims of rape expressed fear that they would never be able to marry. Others felt terrified that they would be shunned by society. Many women have expressed anger at their attackers and willingness to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). That willingness to testify is tempered by fear that their attackers may still be at large in Kosovo, or that they may return.

The piece which we are proposing will be built around the personal struggles and professional efforts of those in the legal rights community working on behalf of justice for women survivors. For women willing to testify, issues of witness protection and support loom large. Once open conflict broke out, the jurisdiction of the ICTY over Kosovo began. As they tried to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, paramilitaries often aided by masked Serb neighbors systematically searched villages for girls of prime, child-bearing age. It is estimated by the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control that as many as 20,000 Kosovar women (4.4 per cent of the population) were raped in the two years prior to NATO forces entering. Unlike Bosnia, where international organizations were located throughout the war, the Kosovar province was on its own. We hope that through this story we can begin to shed light on the challenges that Kosovo’s women face as the province moves towards independence.

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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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Christmas in August! 
Monday, August 27, 2007, 22:04 - Project News

Once again I have updated The Wish List!

I am trying to make it as diverse as possible: something for every inclination and pocket book! As people who are trying to change the world it is not enough to have good intentions, we must also put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. This is one small way to do it. Of course you can always volunteer as well!

And I really need a new light meter; I managed to lose mine in New York last month!

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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 don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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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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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