Saturday, April 16, 2005, 21:29 - TravelLondon
Well, I’m here, barely. While the flight went smoothly things got more than interesting when I touched down at Heathrow. In my travels as a journalist I have discovered one universal fact: no matter your nationality and where you are arriving at, immigration officials suck. Usually if you are an American coming home you breeze through and that has pretty much been my experience. But when you leave home soil everything is up for grabs.
In Indonesia I learned to simply “accidentally” leave the equivalent of ten dollars in my passport, which the poorly paid and overworked immigration official inspecting it had come to expect as a nice “bonus.” Getting through borders in the developing world is a snap if you have the money. Once I was a little tight and only put five bucks in my passport and ended up on the first boat back to Singapore.
I never made that mistake again.
While I found it distasteful and against my principals I learned to grease the wheels to the bureaucracy when I had to: after all, I had bigger fish to fry than haggling with some official looking to shake me down. So upon embarking on this project I was looking forward to the efficient and courteous immigration officials I would find in Europe, especially the UK.
Boy was I wrong.
In middle school I had a wonderful, if stern teacher from England who instilled in me the importance of manners and the sense that all British people were extremely proper. As I walked up to the counter I presented my passport to a matronly woman in her forties who resembled in passing my former teacher. I felt I was in good hands. That is until she started asking questions. Before my trip I went online to the consulate to make sure I didn’t need any visas as a journalists or a round trip ticket. Knowing my plans were flexible I decided not to buy a round trip ticket, which was my major mistake.
Immigration Official: Why are you here: business or pleasure?
Me: A bit of both.
Immigration Official: I see. And you don’t have a return ticket?
Me: No, I am not sure when I will be returning to New York I may end up spending more time at my other destinations.
Immigration Official: Well how do I know that you have any intention to return?
This struck me as odd. Did she really think I was here to move to London and live off the dole? I was after all coming from the richest city in the richest country in the world. I tried to explain to her that I had no intention of staying in London more than a few weeks. I was a journalist, you see, here to cover the elections. After that I am heading to Kosovo, see the letter written by my editor in New York? See the NYPD issued press credentials hanging around my neck?
Immigration Official: Well that card looks like a fake if you ask me.
And so on and so forth for the next three hours.
It was really quite bizarre. After asking more strange questions she motioned me to sit in a group of chairs whilst she decided if they would let me in the country. As time dragged on I became increasingly angry, vowing never to return to England if they denied my entry. Strangely at one point an underling asked me if I wanted tea and biscuits ( I politely refused). I made a point of being civil no matter how silly the accusations or blatantly racist the official was being (during my time waiting, all the other people waiting to find out if they would be sent back from wherever they came from were African or Asian). After waiting for several hours and having my luggage searched and my private journal read the official once again summoned me to her counter.
Immigration Official: I have no idea why but my superior has decided to allow you in. Make sure you do not overstay.
What a welcome!
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Friday, April 15, 2005, 01:38 - PersonalNew York City
Welcome to my blog and website! This is an exciting time for me and I am glad to be sharing it with you. I hope you take the time to view some of the images I will be taking over the next few years as I travel around Europe.
I’d like to start by telling you a little about this project and how it came into being. It was about three years ago and I was lying in bed waiting for the electricity to come back on in Jakarta so it could power the fan and allow me to go to sleep, rather than just sweat, something I had become very good at in the year I had been living in Southeast Asia working as a photographer and writer.
I was trying to decide if I should stay in Indonesia for another two years and cover the elections or move on to something else. While I was enjoying my time there I wasn’t working on any one project per se, I was simply covering different breaking news events which while exciting was less than fulfilling. In my time in Indonesia, I learned that I could indeed work and live abroad but life is more than just work and I had discovered that I wanted something more.
So as I laid in bed, waiting for one of the city’s frequent rolling blackouts to subside, I thought about what I could work on for a few years. I knew it had to be big, interesting and compelling. With four years of History of Photography classes under my belt my mind inevitably wandered to the work of photographers that I held in high esteem. After a while I thought of Robert Frank and his seminal book The Americans. How daunting it must have been as a young Swiss photographer to come to American and try to capture the gestalt of a people and time. With the changes going on in Europe, most notably in my mind the adoption of the Euro, I pondered how interesting it would be to try to document those vast historical changes now moving through the continent. As an American, I could do the reverse of what Frank had done and travel to Europe.
Not long after the power came back on and my room thankfully began to cool but the seed had been planted. Over the coming months both in Indonesia and after I had returned to New York in the spring of 2003 I began thinking more and more about Europe and this project. Assignments, including one to cover the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, came and went but working on this project was never too far from my mind. I was excited about the possibility but the more I thought about what it would take, the more daunted I became. The scale of the changes going on would necessitate a project of similar scope: several years, visiting dozens of countries, tens of thousands of dollars and an unflagging commitment. It took me several months but by the fall of 2004 I decided that if there was ever a project that I needed to work on, this was it.
And so The Europeans was born.
While it had taken me a long time to make the commitment, I knew early on making the decision would be the easy part. The hard part would be the project itself. The logistics, the focus needed, and of course actually taking the images. I had never worked on anything even approaching the scale of this massive endeavor but I had made up my mind and nothing was going to change it. Of course with something so big there is a long lead time in terms of preparations and I took the winter of 2004 to write a proposal and think more deeply about what I was trying to accomplish.
I settled on a few major themes through which to look at what was happening in Europe: Politics, Economics, Immigration and National Identity were my touchstones. Having sorted it all out in my head I have chosen our cousins in the United Kingdom to visit first. Tony Blair is running for reelection and what better way to delve into the issue of politics than to cover an election. It should be an exciting trip, I will be there for about three weeks, mainly in London and afterwards I plan on heading to Kosovo where I will embed with KFOR and document the peace keeping and stabilization efforts the American led multi-national forces are conducting. After a few weeks there I hope to spend some time in Holland where I have no idea what I will be photographing.
I hope this entry gives you some perspective on this project as well and myself. You can view more of my other work at my personal website www.damaso.com
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