Photo of the Day #32 
Monday, July 28, 2008, 11:14 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

It seems like while we Americans are trying to burnish our image abroad, our cousins across the pond are tarnishing theirs. An interesting article in the Guardian explores how British tourists are perceived in the rest of Europe; especially in Greece which has become a bit party destination. While Europe is much less uptight about alcohol than America (could you imagine a temperance movement in France for instance) alcohol abuse, especially among the young is a growing cause for concern.

One more please… © Damaso Reyes

Do you have any experiences with hordes of Brits descending on your village?

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HCB Quote of the Week #45 
Saturday, July 26, 2008, 19:35 - Commentary

I really enjoy these long summer days. There is something special about this city during this season and I am truly soaking it in. I hope that summer is treating you well wherever you are. Here is your HCB Quote of the Week!

Anna in Central Park. © Damaso Reyes

Photography, for me is a supreme moment captured with a single shot. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Photo of the Day #31 
Friday, July 25, 2008, 12:35 - Commentary, Photo of the Day

Did you see?

Obama rocked the house in Berlin yesterday and everybody is talking about it!

Flying in Berlin, 2006. © Damaso Reyes

While the speech may have not been as specific as people would have liked (this was not the point of the speech, but that is besides the point) it was pitch perfect in terms of the broad ideas that an American politician should be conveying to Europe.

"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down," Obama told a crowd of more than 200,000 in the heart of Berlin.

Edmund Stoiber, the honorary head of Germany's Christian Social Union party -- the Bavarian sister party to the conservative Christian Democrats -- and former governor of the state of Bavaria, admitted to being impressed by the speech. "The young senator embodies what many people yearn for: charisma and leadership," Stoiber told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But German politicians will also have trouble meeting his demand to assume more common responsibility for global problems in the world. America is relying on Germany and Europe. This strengthens the trans-Atlantic bridge."

A sign of things to come?

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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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