Photo of the Day #30 
Wednesday, July 23, 2008, 12:32 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

It is sad when you look forward to meetings as a method to get away from your desk.

But this summer I have spent far more time at the keyboard than behind the camera. As many, many others have stated before me the digitalization of photography has been a blessing and a curse. On the one hand I edited and output a family portrait for a friend in about 15 minutes; on the other hand in order to do research or for that matter keep in touch with people around the globe I am stuck at my desk.

Just one more email… Stuttgart 2007 © Damaso Reyes

I am very much looking forward to get back out into the field at the end of next month. In the meantime I will be shooting around the city over the next few days which will be a nice break from the desk…

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Photo of the Day #29 
Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 13:20 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

There are times when it is easy to believe that justice will never be served. That those who have power will do as they please without fear of retribution. That the young system of international justice we have been building for sixty years is only so much eye candy.

And then there are days like today.

Gotcha! Traffic stop in Kosovo. © Damaso Reyes

Radovan Karadzic, the former president of Serbia, was arrested and will soon be spending some quality time at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Accused of being responsible for the 1995 massacre of Muslim women and children in Srebrenica, Karadzic has been on the lam for more than a decade. For years the international community demanded that Serbia turn him over. The Serbians said they had no idea where he was.

It turns out he was in Serbia, not too far from the capital Belgrade, allegedly posing as a traditional healer. His arrest and trial will close a dark chapter in the recent history of Europe. The civil war that broke out as a result of the collapse of Yugoslavia was long and bloody and utterly preventable if the international community, especially the European Union, had been quicker to intervene.

Today it is generally believed that something like that could not happen. But when push comes to shove will the citizens of the E.U. be willing to send their sons and daughters to die to prevent innocents from being massacred once again on European soil?

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Photo of the Day #28 
Monday, July 21, 2008, 11:44 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

So it seems like Obama is a hit not just here in America but across the pond as well! Of course there can be no popularity with controversy and his upcoming trip to Germany is no exception as we learn from our good friends at Der Spiegel (which means mirror, which is kinda cool don’t you think?)

An Obama supporter. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

Even a columnist at
the Guardian thinks that he might be too popular for his own good, at least overseas. Seven year into the Bush administration isn’t the idea of a president who would be popular with the world at large an appealing idea? What do you think?

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HCB Quote of the Week #44 
Saturday, July 19, 2008, 12:54 - Commentary

Summer is definitely here in New York! The past couple of days have been very hot and as much and I may have missed New York this time last year, now I’m starting to miss the relatively cool climate of northern Europe. But it is important to appreciate where you’re at in the moment and that is just what I’m trying to do by barbecuing as much as possible and enjoying those warm summer nights. In fact, I am off to another barbecue today, so now I am off grilling, here is your HCB Quote of the Week!

Summer in Amsterdam, 2005. © Damaso Reyes

Memory is very important, the memory of each photo taken, flowing at the same speed as the event. During the work, you have to be sure that you haven’t left any holes, that you’ve captured everything, because afterwards it will be too late. - Henri Cartier-Bresson "American Photo", September/October 1997, page: 76

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Photo of the Day #27 
Friday, July 18, 2008, 12:30 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Today is the
90th birthday of Nelson Mandela! It is hard to believe that he was able to contribute so much to so many after spending more than 25 years in prison. His life is a shining example to all of us who wish to make the world a better place. Today we should use this day as a reminder of how far we have come and how much further we have to go. Most importantly let’s remember that we can indeed make a difference!

Happy birthday Mr. Preisdent! Zanibar 2006 © Damaso Reyes

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Photo of the Day #26 
Thursday, July 17, 2008, 12:51 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

I have been to two exhumations in my life; one in Kosovo and one in Rwanda, and that is two too many. The work is very important and documenting it is just as necessary but that doesn’t make the challenge of watching bones come out of the ground and easier.

Remains of the war. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

There is a great article in the International Herald Tribune about one man who made it his mission to bring to light the crimes of the past. Jean-René Ruez is a French policeman who search for justice is a shining example of how Europeans can work together to police their own problems.

Let’s hope that the strengthening of the European Union; whatever its failings and however you may feel about it, can at least prevent men like this from needing to do their work in the future.

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Photo of the Day #25 (Peter Magubane Edition) 
Wednesday, July 16, 2008, 11:45 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

The fight for freedom can take many forms. There are those who man the barricades; there are those who give the speeches; there are those who face down the water cannons and angry dogs. And then there are those who document it all, without whom the rest of the world would never know what happened. Last week I had an opportunity to attend the opening of a show at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture where I saw a wonderful example of the last kind of freedom fighter. “Nelson Mandela: Man of the People” now on display through August 31, gives us a historical and intimate glimpse of South Africa’s first freely elected black president. Over 100 images by celebrated South African photographer Peter Magubane trace the history of the man and the movement over 50 years.

“You do not ask permission to take pictures. No one tells me if I can or cannot take a photograph,” Magubane defiantly said at the opening. For me this quotation sums up my attitude towards photojournalism.

If he can do it, why can’t I? Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

Some people, mostly non-photographers, are put off by this sentiment. The reaction I usually get when I say something to that effect is that photographers are somehow invading the privacy and the rights of those they photograph. I often hear the old cliché that somehow I am “stealing their soul.” No one ever talks about my rights as a photographer to document the world around me.

More importantly, this is not simply a right, it is an obligation I have as a journalist. Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes people consider it truly hurtful, although in more than 10 years doing this job I had never encountered that. Usually it is pseudo-liberal intellectuals arguing an abstract point that make this argument. Very few of them have ever been professional photojournalists. And that is exactly the point.

Taking pictures of people in pain or distress is not “fun.” It certainly is not easy. It is something I feel like I have to do in order to inform the greater world of what is happening. More importantly, only the photographer should decide when he or she should photograph. When society starts dictating when it is acceptable for me or my colleagues to do our work we are not only taking another step toward censorship we are depriving ourselves of knowledge of the world around us.

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Photo of the Day #24 (Vive la France) 
Tuesday, July 15, 2008, 20:41 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

So yesterday was Bastille day and I totally forgot! I hope that all my French readers had a good time on their national day. While we bask in the glory that France, as we did on July 4, this is a good opportunity to reflect upon whether or our nation is living up to our ideals.

I was dismayed to read the following headline in the Guardian last week: France rejects Muslim woman over radical practice of Islam. The article talks about the decision France made to deny citizenship to a Moroccan woman who chooses to wear a burqa.

“The woman, known as Faiza M, is 32, married to a French national and lives east of Paris. She has lived in France since 2000, speaks good French and has three children born in France. Social services reports said she lived in "total submission" to her husband. Her application for French nationality was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of "insufficient assimilation" into France. She appealed, invoking the French constitutional right to religious freedom and saying that she had never sought to challenge the fundamental values of France. But last month the Council of State, France's highest administrative body, upheld the ruling.

"She has adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes,” it said.

The future of France? © Damaso Reyes

This is disturbing for a number of reasons. It seems like this woman, aside from the fact that she wears a burqa, is the kind of immigrant that France wants. She speaks the language, she seemed fairly integrated into the society, and more importantly she wants be part of the society.

The problem that many Western European governments have when addressing the issue of immigration is that they want their would-be immigrants to totally and instantly integrate into their society. American history, with its long history of immigration, clearly shows that the process of integration usually takes two or three generations. “American” values have never been threatened by immigration although they have been enhanced by it. What we see in Western Europe is the effect of a policy of fear and distrust, one that only occurs when discussion and communication are absent.

People emigrate because they seek new opportunities and ultimately do want to become part of the society they choose. But this process takes time. On the streets of New York we see Hasidic Jews in their long black coats and women in their headscarves who have lived in this country for generations. No American I know of, except the xenophobic ones, feel that our society and culture is threatened by their expression of religion and culture.

Any culture which is not strong enough to handle diversity will sooner or later die.

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Photo of the Day #23 
Monday, July 14, 2008, 12:50 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

I saw this poster a while ago and thought it perfectly summed up our society’s attitude towards photographers.

I assure you that this poster is real. It seems that the British government is trying to outdo its American cousins. Of course let’s not forget that George Orwell set 1984 in the United Kingdom. There was even a proposal to ban photography in public places, which thankfully didn’t get anywhere.

Right here in New York there was a proposal to ban photography in the subways, which also thankfully was not implemented after thousands of New Yorkers complained.

But why are we so afraid of photographers? There is no evidence that photography played an important role in any of the recent terror attacks. So this idea that terrorists are using photography as a surveillance tool is not really justified.

Hundreds of millions of people walk around every day with cameras in their pockets. The fact that these cameras are attached to mobile phones is irrelevant. In fact, if you were a terrorist what kind of camera would you use? A big, bulky SLR which would attract attention? Or would you use an inconspicuous mobile phone?

I think this obsession that the authorities, as well as many of my fellow citizens, have with controlling the activities of photographers has everything to do with the fact that our government can’t really protect us. Instead of focusing on the security of our container ports for instance, it is much easier, not to mention less expensive, for those in power to focus on the most obvious manifestation of our fear: the photographer.

But this doesn’t make us any safer, in fact it doesn’t even make us feel safer. At the same time we lose a little bit more of our freedom.Amazingly enough they are going the other way in Saudi Arabia of all places.

What do you think?

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HCB Quote of the Week #43 
Saturday, July 12, 2008, 13:19 - Commentary

There is an old blues song that goes: “nobody loves me, except my mama and she could be jiving too.”

That seems to be exactly how people feel about the new American embassy in Berlin. I also think that it is fairly ugly but I don’t recall a single embassy of any country nearly anywhere in the world that I love. Nevertheless people are quite upset about this new fortress in the heart of Berlin.

Building the fortress. Berlin 2006 © Damaso Reyes

And since you’ve been waiting patiently, here it is your HCB Quote of the Week!

Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing a meditation.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Photo of the Day #22 
Friday, July 11, 2008, 12:05 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Recently the European Union concluded a new agreement on immigration and refugees. In this article in the International Herald Tribune we learn that the focus of the agreement is on policing and not integrating new immigrants and asylum-seekers into European society.

“But with its emphasis on increased border controls, the pact is likely to reinforce the image of a Fortress Europe.
"The European Union does not have the means to decently welcome all the migrants who hope to find a better life there," the pact says.

It comes less than a month after a decision by the European Parliament to extend detention of clandestine immigrants to as long as 18 months and to ban them from EU territory for five years. That decision brought sharp criticism, notably from Latin American countries that have taken in large numbers of European migrants since World War II,”
write Katrin Bennhold and Caroline Brothers.

Not welcome. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

Rather than taking a bold stand on immigration, especially given their demographic concerns which we talked about last week, it seems like the European leaders are more than happy to take the easy way out. Eventually this will lead to immigrants going to countries that welcome them rather than give them the cold shoulder. This of course would be a disaster for Western Europe and the EU as a whole.

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Photo of the Day #21 
Thursday, July 10, 2008, 12:55 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

It seems that I’m not the only one who’s thinking about what the future of the E.U. There is an interesting article in Der Spiegel which talks about some of the reaction in the German press toward defeat of the Treaty of Lisbon. Here is one telling quotation from a left wing German newspaper:

"By stubbornly pushing through of this process, Brussels risks hardening many Europeans' image of the EU: That it is something where 'those up there' force something on the ordinary people. Or that something is put to the vote repeatedly until the result suits the politicians."

Listening but not hearing. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

This seems to perfectly sum up how far too many Europeans feel about the transnational government which is supposed to serve them. The real question is can and how these feelings can be changed. I believe that it has to start from the top and the attitude that those who favor of stronger European Union have. The decision-making process needs to become more inclusive. And European citizens need to feel like they have a say in the formulation of policy, not simply its ratification.

Clearly this would be a significant change from the way business is conducted in Brussels today. But I believe that if the union is to survive and prosper these changes need to be put into place post haste.

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Photo of the Day #20 
Wednesday, July 9, 2008, 13:00 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

I got the following email in my inbox last week:

I am sorry to tell you that your application for [name redacted] was rejected by the jury.

Best regards,

Part of being an artist is accepting rejection; after all, you can’t win them all, can you? But sometimes you are feeling a bit low and then you get an email or letter like this one and you say to yourself: Does anyone understand what it is I’m trying to do here?

Election night rejection. London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

The short answer is no.

The long answer is yes, of course. But often it is difficult to see the glory of heaven when you’re stuck down in the mud. But who wants to stay down in the mud? So we keep applying and we keep hoping that eventually our hard work will pay off. In that spirit, here is a posting for a fellowship! It is for the Fulbright I did earlier this year in Vienna. It’s a great opportunity and I strongly encourage all of you Americans out there to apply. Good luck! ... ul9190.htm

The purpose of this award is to give creative artists of all contemporary media, including but not limited to publishing companies and radio and TV broadcasters, media and projection art, electronic music, game culture, comics, film analysis, sound architecture and light art, an opportunity to work in residence with one or more of the cultural providers associated with quartier21. A project proposal that describes the artist’s planned contribution to quartier21 activities and that specifically mentions one or more quartier21 project partners of interest should be submitted with the application. A letter of invitation from an appropriate MuseumsQuartier host is strongly recommended.

Language: Activities will be conducted in English.

Location: MuseumsQuartier Vienna

Length of Grant: 2 months to 4 months
Starting Date: Between October 2009 and June 2010

Housing provided by the host institution.

Located in the center of Vienna, the MuseumsQuartier Wien is one of the 10 largest cultural complexes in the world. It has a special interest in the promotion of contemporary arts and provides the infrastructure for a wide variety of museums, concert halls and other cultural institutions. Quartier21 is an organization that provides support to over 40 institutions and autonomous cultural and artistic initiatives situated in the MuseumsQuartier, focusing its programs on media arts, contemporary music and fashion (consult for details).

Staff: Program Officer Alisha Scott, 202.686.6244, or Program Associate Abby Greenwell, 202.686.6232,

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Photo of the Day #19 
Tuesday, July 8, 2008, 13:38 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

While visiting one of my favorite websites, the EU Observer, I came across an interesting article about some new European Commission legislation regarding discrimination. While Europe, especially the E.U., is very progressive and forward thinking when it comes to the issue of equal rights, the article talks about how when it comes to equality in marriage gays and lesbians still have some way to go.

“New European Commission proposals to put an end to discrimination on the basis of age, disability, sexual orientation or creed have been given a lukewarm welcome by civil liberties groups, who say prejudice against same-sex couples who wish to get married is not adequately covered,” wrote Leigh Phillips.

Dancing in Vienna, 2008. © Damaso Reyes

Currently three members of the European Union Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium as well as Norway allow gays and lesbians to marry. In general, citizens of the European Union are fairly tolerant of homosexuality, at least compared to many other places in the world. So why shouldn’t the E.C. be more aggressive in expanding gay marriage?

One reason might be that with the rejection once again of the EU constitution leaders in Brussels fear pushing their citizens too far too fast. There are far too many examples bureaucrats in Brussels making decisions which they say are in the best interests of citizens but which are simply an exercise of power and control. This would not be one of those cases.

Sometimes the role of government, as the American federal government showed during the civil rights era, is to lead its citizens, not to simply follow. Clearly one of the issues that the evolving European Union has to face is to try to balance these two extremes.

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Photo of the Day #18 
Monday, July 7, 2008, 12:28 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

I hope that everyone had a good weekend as I did! I started my Independence Day celebrations early by going with some friends Six Flags, an amusement park located in nearby New Jersey, on Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday I had opportunities to do some barbecuing as well as see some good friends.

The exception to the rule. The Hague 2005 © Damaso Reyes

Well it’s a new week and a new day and of course that means a new Photo of the Day! Der Spiegel has an interesting article about the difficulty of enforcing the smoking ban in Germany. Now of course we’ve talked extensively about the German proclivity for following the rules. This issue seems to be an interesting outlier. When it came to getting rid of the mark, there was no problem; but take away people’s cigarettes and you’ve got a fight on your hands!

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