Interlude... 
Saturday, March 17, 2007, 21:16 - Travel, Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart

So I have been somewhat busy editing photos, taking long walks in the woods and planning some shoots for next week so I haven’t been blogging too much. But I promise that soon you will see the fruits of my labor, or at least the vegetables. In the meantime I think I will begin a series of interludes describing some past experiences so you can get to know me and my work a little better…

March 30, 2004
Kibuye, Rwanda


The hole was already a meter and a half deep by the time we arrived. The drive took over an hour, first over the newly paved roads which had recently been constructed and then over gravel and then dirt roads which took us continually west towards Kibuye, a small town which overlooks Lake Kivu.

The day began with a clear blue sky but as we headed west and up in altitude a fine mist began to envelope our Landcruiser. As we continued along the pothole filled roads I watched the hilly landscape through the occasional breaks in the weather. The terraced rice patties, the gentle slopes and intriguing valleys kept me occupied for most of the journey.

This was my second trip to the Central African nation which ten years before had been gripped by a hundred day genocide which took the lives of more than a million people. Jimmie, my best friend, was sitting next to me in the car, equally lost in his own thoughts. Finally we arrived at the hospital where we were supposed to observe the exhumation of a mass grave which was dug and filled during the genocide. As part of the tenth anniversary commemoration the Rwandan government had encouraged citizens to find the remaining mass graves which filled the countryside and exhume the bodies in order to give the dead a proper burial. We were to observe one such exhumation.

Raymond Kalisa, a Rwandan filmmaker who was working for CNN during the 10th anniversary, was our guide and slowly we walked toward a spot under a large tree where many people had gathered. A young man in his early twenties was telling his story. He had been at the hospital at the time and had witnessed the massacre. He was sure that this spot was where the bodies lay hidden for the past ten years. With no preamble young men began hacking away at the soft earth, much the way it had been disturbed ten years earlier, with picks and hoes.


Searching for bodies at the hospital. © Damaso Reyes

For nearly two hours they dug but other than a few animal remains the dead remained elusive.
Our small group went back to our vehicle and set off towards the Lake where we were told that another, smaller exhumation would be taking place. Again, silence filled the car.

Thirty minutes later we were walking up a small hillside. By the time we arrived the hole was already a meter and a half deep, villagers, some incongruously wearing their Sunday finest, were gathered around the sides of a long, curving trench which had been cut into the hillside. They observed us with eyes that seemed to ask “why are you here?” Raymond told them that we were journalists here to document the exhumation. They returned to watching the trench, which was slowly growing deeper as men young and old took turns removing the sticky clay soil which buried their dead.


Digging up the past. © Damaso Reyes

Soon after we arrived a femur was found. It was carefully placed into one of the many empty rice sacks which had been procured for the exhumation. Soon more bones followed, then a skull. The onlookers watched on nearly impassively, occasionally pointing to some remains and whispering among themselves. Small children flitted about the edges, curious to see what was going on, unaware of the magnitude. These young souls had been born long after the evil that swept over their nation had left. The eyes of their parents bore silent witness to the horror that the landscape had endured.


A young child plays with a skull. © Damaso Reyes

Throughout it all I moved silently around and occasionally into, the trench, documenting the men’s work and the terrible product of that work. The camera protected me from the content of the images I was creating: a freshly discovered bone hoisted out of the trench; a skull slowly cleaned of the cloying soil which had kept it hidden for a decade; the decomposed dress of a two year old who had been brutally murdered and casually dumped into the trench. Roll after roll, I went about my work, trying to be a professional.

After two hours and twelve rolls of film I turned to Jimmie, who had been observing and occasionally speaking with the villagers. “I’m done,” I told him. He seemed slightly surprised but understood. “If I don’t have it already, I’m not going to get it.” He nodded his head as I sat down on a nearby rock and watched the villagers continue their work.


Bearing Witness. © Damaso Reyes

Five years earlier during my first trip here I was determined not to let me feelings get in the way of my work. What I realized afterwards is that it was not wise to let myself grow too distant from my humanity. Truly it was the thing which allowed me to do the painful work that I felt was my calling and to deny that would be to deny myself. Standing at the side of that trench, overlooking a lovely valley I knew that I couldn’t take anymore photographs. I had imposed on the situation enough and I knew that taking more photographs would be bad for my soul, or what was left of it.

There is of course this deeply rooted myth that when you photograph someone you take their soul. I believe the opposite is true. You can’t photograph something like an exhumation without leaving part of yourself behind. There is some kind of essential trade that happens when you photograph difficult situations: a piece of yourself for an image. We don’t get a high or take any joy when documenting other people’s pain, in way through creating a document of an event we share it, and often we would rather not. But in creating a connection between the viewer and the subject the photographer himself must act as a bridge. And that has an effect.


Searching the past. © Damaso Reyes

For me that day has remained with me and always will. When people ask me why I am an atheist, I tell them that story and the dozen others that I have borne witness to. No God I want to pray to allows such horror. When people ask why I don’t believe in God I ask them in turn why do they believe. For me that day simply confirmed what I already knew: the goodness or evil in men resides solely with them; we have no one else to turn to, no one else to blame….

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Drug Reform 
Saturday, March 10, 2007, 18:17 - Commentary
Stuttgart

It seems as though the United Kingdom may join the increasing number of European nations which are moving to scrap their antiquated drug laws, The Guardian is reporting. What do you think, should soft and hard drugs continue to be illegal, punishable by stiff jail sentences? In America a large percentage of those who are in prison are there on non violent drug offenses, costing taxpayers untold billions. The main reason why most Black men in America are either in jail or on probation or parole is because of such laws. What do you think?


Skiing in Manhattan. © Damaso Reyes

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Month Two 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 15:54 - Personal, Project News, Commentary
Stuttgart

Well it has been two months since I left New York and arrived here in Germany. In that time I have traveled to a Munich and Cologne and shot and processed nearly a hundred rolls of film.


Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Cologne 2007. ©Damaso Reyes

Since I have been here time has had the dual sensation of moving slowly and quickly at the same time. On the one hand, it feels like I have been here for a long time, on the other, time seems to be slipping by. While I have been fairly productive I still feel like I am spinning my wheels at times, especially when it comes to setting up shoots at various institutions. I think that my stay here at Solitude has taught me to slow down a bit, to spend more time thinking and pondering what it is I am doing and for that I am truly grateful. Yesterday, after running some errands, I simply took a long walk in that park. As the clouds came and went I walked along the verdant paths and thought about the rest of the year, what I would like to be doing and about the long term prospects of the project. It was nice to feel like I had the time and space to think, indeed I think that outlook is going to be crucial to the success of the project. But alas my time here is also finite and I have to really begin to start searching for more long term financing for The Europeans if I am to keep going. As much as I distain the idea of being a business man I am going to have to start moving in that direction if I want to keep this up.

But for now I am enjoying the sanity that this fellowship is providing.

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Worker 
Thursday, March 1, 2007, 12:41 - Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart

I am a worker.

©Damaso Reyes

This is where I work.

©Damaso Reyes

I mix chemicals.

©Damaso Reyes

I open film canisters.

©Damaso Reyes

I make photographs.

©Damaso Reyes

Don’t forget it!

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Prince Harry 
Friday, February 23, 2007, 19:50 - Commentary
Stuttgart


Marine recruits. ©Damaso Reyes

It’s nice to see that SOME country’s elites are willing to put their money where their mouths are…

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Carnival in Cologne 
Monday, February 19, 2007, 21:59 - Travel, Shooting, Commentary
Cologne

Day One
“We’re not in Stuttgart anymore, Toto”


It certainly has been a long weekend!

You know, every time I embark on one of these little adventures, I forget how much work is involved. I know, it sounds silly but something like Carnival is so overwhelming I think I block out the unpleasant parts and then am pleasantly surprised when some drunken idiot smashes into me.

I took the high speed ICE train at five and settled in with a book I had been saving just for this trip, Final Impact by John Birmingham. The train was about ten minutes delayed getting in and of course that made me miss my connection in Manheim. Have no fear, I was rerouted to Bonn where before long I caught a train headed into Cologne, just forty minutes behind schedule.

Luckily for me I was met on the platform by the lovely Eva, a cousin of one of the outstanding staff members here who agreed to let me crash at her place, which is actually an old fraternity house. Here I was, seven years late and four thousand miles away, living the college life I never got to have!

After a quick bite to eat back at the frat house, it was time to find me a costume. Now I haven’t really been into dressing up for Halloween or anything since I was a kid, but it is pretty much expected that you will. So we rummaged through the odds and ends in the house and managed to find a complete ladybug costume, which I will spare you any photos of.

One of Eva’s friends knew of a house party and around ten we were off. We took the metro across town to the house where the theme was that of a forest, which some people took more seriously than others, my costume just happened to be a great fit. A real live Carnival music band was just finishing up as we entered, or rather, tried desperately to squeeze ourselves into, the house. Of course the downside of the ladybug costume, with its red fur, is that it is great at trapping heat, especially when you are pressed in cheek by jowl. Nevertheless, this wasn’t my first crowded house party and after a few liters of beer I was well in the spirit. We left sometime around three or four, it’s all a bit hazy…

Day Two
“Around the Way”


Initially I had some ideas about getting up early and shooting some parades but my four a.m. bedtime reordered my priorities. When I did get up, around one in the afternoon, some of the more exciting things in town had already happened. No matter, because invariably when a door closes a window is right there, ready to be opened. As it turned out, that afternoon was when all the neighborhoods in Cologne had their local parades. Cute kids in costumes, no drunken college students, what more could a photographer ask for? Eva’s family lives nearby so we went out at around two thirty and spent a few hours watching little kids throw candy at other little kids who were shouting “Kamella!!!” which translates to “sweeties!” and “Alaaf” which doesn’t translate to anything but is the standard Carnival greeting in these parts.


Eva and her cousin Anna. ©Damaso Reyes

So it was back to the crib for a little sack time, most of which I spent reading. I did manage to catch a few zzz’s before we headed out again into the great maw of Carnival in Koln. First we needed to refuel and we went to a passable Indian restaurant and filled up on some curry.


Man and dog. ©Damaso Reyes

The real problem with Carnival, at least downtown, is that the halfway cool places are literally packed to the rafters with revelers. So we spent the evening going from place to place, waiting in line, paying a cover, and sweating inside where it was only possible to get to the bar by throwing some sharp elbows, which almost made up for the ridiculous crowds (see how I suffer for my art?). Eventually we ended up at a nightclub with some of Eva’s friends which was mercifully not packed like a can of sardines. The music was halfway decent, the drinks were halfway cheap, at least until midnight, and we ended up rocking out until three or so when we left en masse of one of Eva’s friend’s house where we had a late night snack and waited for one of Eva’s roommates who was getting off of work late to give us a ride home.

Day Three
“Stranger in a Strange Land”


Sunday morning, or afternoon to be more accurate, was pretty much a repeat of Saturday. A late breakfast and little motivate to do anything but go back to bed. Today I was on my own and spent much of the afternoon lying in bed, engrossed in my novel of alternate history. Around seven I managed to summon my last reserves of motivation and hurled myself into the night, cameras in hand (if I hadn’t made it clear, I had been shooting pretty much continuously over the previous two days).

I took the metro into town and got off about a kilometer and a half from the Dom or big cathedral which dominates Koln. As I walked down a broad boulevard, only shadows and the occasional car were my companions. Where was everyone? I silently thought to myself, adjusting my camera bag as I continued my journey. How many times had I been here before, not knowing exactly where I was heading, walking down strange streets in unfamiliar cities, alone except for my determination to somehow make this self imposed solitude worthwhile by capturing a few images.

As I approached the Dom the fleeting sounds of drums echoed off the buildings groaning under the weight of hundreds of years of history. In the square in front of the church a few food and beer vendors had set up to service the transient crowds which were walking through on their way towards a night of merriment. An impromptu drum circle had come together and visitors danced and clapped in the crisp night air, not exactly what the architects of the grand house of worship behind them had envisioned when they built the old church.

The square, with its Gothic architecture and boozing crowds was rife with image making opportunities and I wandered from one end to the other, happily snapping away between bites of bratwurst and slugs of beer.

I continued to wander the narrow streets of cobblestone and once again the pavement reflected the distant sounds of drums, and now horns as well. I followed my ears and came upon a mobile rhythm section, twenty or so deep, playing the streets. For the second time in as many days I found myself tapping my foot and photographing to that classic “Eye of the Tiger.” I was quite impressed by the range of music they played from Cologne Carnival classics to New Orleans Mardi Gras anthems.

Eventually, and on the early side compared to the past two nights, I made my way home. I had to get some sack time in preparation for the big day tomorrow. Rose Monday is the culmination of the four month Carnival season and it was one parade I wasn’t going to miss.

Day Four
“The Long Road Ahead”


Despite the warmth of my bed and the sleep still in my eyes, I managed to roust myself out of the house more or less on time to get to the start of the parade before it kicked off at 11. For as far as the eye could see, men and women prepared to march in blue and white. As the parade began to move forward I found myself with a particularly merry group of candy and flower throwing men and stuck with them as the parade wound its way through the heart of the old city.


Alaaf! ©Damaso Reyes


Would you like a flower? ©Damaso Reyes


Where, I wondered were my kisses? ©Damaso Reyes

Kilometer after kilometer the sounds of drums and horse hoofs on cobblestone intermingled with cries of “Alaaf!!!” The crowds were having nearly as much fun and children of all ages dressed as only their imaginations could conceive cheered us on. Carnival here in Cologne is pretty much a family affair and far from the cries for public nudity that I encountered last year in New Orleans, here small children were the one having the most fun.


On horseback. ©Damaso Reyes


Festive attire. ©Damaso Reyes


American imperialism hard at work. ©Damaso Reyes


Echoes. ©Damaso Reyes


Am I the only one who finds this offensive? Comments please. ©Damaso Reyes

And now I am here at the train station, still surrounded by costumed revelers waiting for the train to take me back to Stuttgart. All in all a good couple of days.


In front of the Dom. ©Damaso Reyes
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Video Killed the Photography Star 
Thursday, February 15, 2007, 13:30 - Commentary
Stuttgart

Often when I tell people that I am a photojournalist they ask me if I do video as well.

I always answer no.

I mention this because of an article I saw today online. One quote gave me pause:

“Digital stills photography will, when we look back on it, form a very small period of time in the history of photojournalism”, Nicol told EPUK. “Telegraph photographers will undoubtedly be shooting solely on video in the future, and certainly within a year we hope to be well advanced down that route.” Read the whole story here.

Now I know this Platypus idea has been around for the better part of a decade, but I am a staunch holdout. It’s not that I don’t think that people should do video if they want to, after all I am a live and let live kinda guy, I just don’t want to do it.


The video camera: friend or foe? ©Damaso Reyes

But why, you ask? Well, because I am a photographer. Not a videographer, director, producer or on air personality. I like still images, I believe that they have the ability to convey a perspective that video simply can’t. As well I don’t want to do all the jobs that an independent videographer has to do. My job is hard enough, thank you very much, without turning me into a multimedia octopus. And to what end? So APTV can buy my snippet and it appears for 30 seconds on a nightly news broadcast if I’m lucky? Or I spend years trying to sell a feature documentary that might win some awards and get seen buy a few thousand people? Not my bag. I feel artists should be free to pursue whatever they want but I refuse to let the market, or fashion, dictate how I do my work.

I still think there is a place for still photography. Now if anyone out these has a map, I could use some directions…

***


Two articles I was made aware of recently bring more interesting news. The first announces a high speed imaging sensor, the other talks about the trend towards video from print publications. I'm starting to feel like a bald eagle, except they are thinking of taking them off the endangered species list...

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Iraq Then and Now 
Tuesday, February 13, 2007, 19:36 - Commentary
Stuttgart

When I visited Iraq in 2000 I thought that there was little else that my country to could to make the situation there more intolerable for the people whom we wished to “liberate.”


An Iraqi hospital in 2000. ©Damaso Reyes

Clearly, I was wrong.

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Anna Nicole 
Friday, February 9, 2007, 08:04 - Commentary
Stuttgart

Anna Nicole Smith is dead.


Anna at Live 8 in 2005. ©Damaso Reyes


©Damaso Reyes


©Damaso Reyes

Here’s a link to a blog that I wrote about her in 2005. Let me know what you think…

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One down... 
Wednesday, February 7, 2007, 17:44 - Shooting, Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart

One month down, five to go!

Time is a tricky thing, something it goes by at warp speed, usually when I’m doing something fun like eating ice cream or nude karaoke; at other times it drags on, most notably when I am loading one of the 16 rolls of films that I have been regularly processing. In truth while I feel totally settled in and I have shot upwards of 40 rolls so far I don’t feel like I have already been here a month, I suppose it is a testament to how quickly I have gotten used to adapting to new circumstances. In reality I think it is simply that I very quickly got into a routine and have been working it like a rented mule.

Yesterday I shot the opening session of the year for the State Parliament, which is just as exciting as it sounds, except that it is in German. As a politics junkie I find European parliamentary democracy fascinating and not just for the fact that politicians commonly boo and hiss one another. I hope to spend more time there next week as I continue my foray into the depths of the German political system with its direct and proportional representation. Admit it, I’m making you a little hot under the collar aren’t I?

Academy Schloss Solitude certainly lives up to its name. On most nights during a walk around this building you will only encounters the shot hum of electronics and the darkness of unlit hallways. Most fellows seem content to spend a good deal of their time working in their studios. I tend to wander a bit, down to the darkroom, into town, I like this whole fresh air and people concept, well the fresh air part, and only if it’s not too cold, but anyway I feel like I have been seeing less and less of people but about one a week there seems to be some kind of spontaneous gather involving food and wine and of course cigarettes, much to my dismay.

Stuttgart is a nice town, of course the logistics of the bus makes accessing the nightlife an all or nothing proposition, no drunken subway rides home at 2:45 here. I like the town and by and large the people are friendly and patient with this non-German speaking foreigner here to take their jobs, women and drink their beer.

So far I have shot at a professional football match, a hip-hop nightclub, three times at the State Parliament, in the forest for some reason, in a field full of smelly sheep, at a party in Munich, and probably some other places my bad memory is getting in the way of. Lucky I got it on film!

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What the Duck 
Saturday, February 3, 2007, 14:17 - Commentary
Stuttgart

So I came across this comic strip a while back and thought I would share it with you. It’s a pretty accurate portrait of life as a photographer.



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Snow Day! 
Thursday, January 25, 2007, 13:36 - Personal, Project News, Commentary
Stuttgart

So it snowed yesterday.


©Damaso Reyes

A lot.


©Damaso Reyes

I had fun.


©Damaso Reyes

I went sledding.


©Damaso Reyes

I got cold and wet.


Going down the hill with a little help. Photo by Ligia Nobre.

But I had fun.

Then I had dinner with some of my fellow fellows and processed 16 rolls of film.

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Zen and the Art of Waiting 
Wednesday, January 24, 2007, 02:24 - Shooting, Commentary
Stuttgart

Some people think of photography as an action packed adventure but those of us who actually take the photographs know that it is all about waiting. And then waiting some more. And then a little more after that.

Sometimes it’s about waiting for the right moment, other times it’s about waiting for someone to get back to you about a shoot. Still other times it’s about waiting for the bus to take you to the shoot, or waiting for your subject to show up. At the end of the day we often spend more time waiting than taking pictures.

Today I spent the afternoon taking pictures at the state parliament, which mostly entailed waiting. I had tentatively arranged to shoot there through one of the members but as Tuesday grew closer I still had not heard back. When I called her office her assistant said that she was indeed in but in a meeting, the very meeting that I wanted to come and photograph as it turned out.

So I had a choice: sit and wait to hear back or just show up. In true Damaso fashion I chose the later. The security guard didn’t know what to do with me when I arrived but after a few phone calls I was let in and directed to the SPD party floor where I wandered a bit aimlessly, my two contacts not being in their office but, you guessed it, in the meeting. I finally found someone nice enough to let the two members know that I was there. He asked me to wait.

So I had some tea and caught up with the battle of Arnhem.

And I waited.

After a while one of the members who I knew came out. I asked if I could come inside and photograph. The real selling point was the fact that I wouldn’t understand a word they were saying. I find not being able to speak the language of the country I am in as helpful as it can be annoying sometimes. He said he would ask the other members inside.

And then he asked me to wait.

So I had some more tea and kept reading. And reading. And reading.

Finally he emerged and said it would be no problem for me to shoot.

So I spent the next ninety minutes photographing the meeting and later one of the members as he went over a draft of the budget with an assistant. I spent just about the same amount of time waiting to take pictures as I did actually photographing. While this isn’t always the case I find that it is not all that unusual either.

If you want excitement, become a racecar driver.

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MLK DAY 
Monday, January 15, 2007, 22:27 - Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

This is just about the only holiday that I actually take seriously and though tempted I managed to avoid doing any work today. I simply meditated on the man and his message. How far we have come since he gave his famous speech in 1963 and how very far we still have to go to form this more perfect union.



If you haven’t already, I highly suggest listening to “I have a Dream” in its entirety. I do this several times a year myself, mostly just as an inspirational pick-me-up. But considering that it is the greatest English language speech of the 20th century there is really no reason just to listen to it one day a year. If you haven’t heard it in a while, or ever heard the whole speech, you will be amazed by how relevant it still is today and just how beautifully moving it is.

When I was in elementary school every year as the holiday approached we had to do something King related. In the fourth grade I recall an art project where we had to write out the word of the speech in the background of a portrait of Dr. King. I remember thinking at the time how boring it was and how long the speech was but as I have gotten older the words that I labored over have attained a meaning that I could have scarcely imagined back then. I leave you with a paragraph from the speech….


"There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. *We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating: "For Whites Only."* We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
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Jet Lag 
Wednesday, January 10, 2007, 20:58 - Personal, Commentary
Stuttgart, Germany


I guess I shouldn’t have joked about the jet lag in my last entry. For some reason I have been waking up at 2:30 in the morning for the past two days, unable to get back to sleep until five or six in the morning. As you could imagine this has put a serious cramp in my style. But I fight on.


My door. ©Damaso Reyes

As promised here are some photos of my studio. Really it is a very posh apartment, nicer than I have ever lived in but I think I will find a way to manage.


This I where the feasts are prepared, mostly pasta so far! ©Damaso Reyes


This is my desk, exciting isn't it? ©Damaso Reyes


Note the high ceilings... ©Damaso Reyes


Did I mention the ceilings? ©Damaso Reyes


The view from the bedroom, seriously I have to climb stairs. ©Damaso Reyes


See I told you, stairs... ©Damaso Reyes


This is where the magic happens. ©Damaso Reyes

In other news, I have been having quite a time finding photo equipment. There is a ton of stuff that I didn’t pick up in New York because I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to find what it is I am looking for. Big mistake. In any event, I am going to head to Munich tomorrow to see my friends Lisa and Renate, fellow photographers I met at Photokina in October. While I am there I will hit up a few photo stores and see what’s what.

More than even the amazing space I am living in I have been incredibly impressed by the friendly and helpful staff here. There are close to a dozen people here working to support the fellows and I think it will make a big difference in my productivity.



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