Photographer Interview: Damaso Reyes

Photographer Damaso Reyes
Photographer Damaso Reyes

There’s a classic quality to this photojournalist’s work that is unique – perhaps it’s the Leica glass, the wide angle portraits or the grain of black and white film. Damaso’s work has taken him around the world and his images take you along for the ride.

Check Damaso Reyes’ photography online and friend him on Facebook.

D&B: Where are you from?
DR: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started – any “formal” training?
DR: I developed an interest in photography as a teenager. Having read National Geographic for several years I fell in love with the idea of becoming a photojournalist and began to teach myself technique from copies of the magazine Photographic. I eventually took a class in high school and began freelancing at that point. I went on to study photography at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
DR: I’ve used a wide range of equipment and techniques over the years. Now I almost exclusively use Leica rangefinder cameras with Kodak film. After using single lens reflex cameras for most of my career I feel in rangefinder cameras I have found the best tool to express my vision. I’m primarily a photojournalist so I adhere to those values, namely interfering as little as possible with what I am trying to document. I want to serve as a window through which the viewer can witness what I am experiencing.

Singing, Copyright Damaso Reyes

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?

DR: Chester Higgins Jr. of the New York Times has been a great friend and mentor. Dr. Deb Willis, chair of NYU’s Department of Photography and Imagining, has also been incredibly helpful over the past few years.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a photographer of color? (this question is optional)
DR: Yes. That’s the short answer. The long answer is the challenges that photographers of color face is much more covert than overt. It has a lot to do with how we see the world. Since most of us are outsiders in one way or another our vision can be threatening or at odds with the life experience of decision makers like editors who are very rarely people of color. The reason I became a photographer was to try to show people the way that I see the world. Apparently that is not what sells newspapers and magazines.

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
DR: It happened when I was still in High school and started freelancing for the Amsterdam News here in New York. After I published a few pictures I thought to myself “that’s easy!” Of course I’ve spent the last fifteen years learning otherwise. But I was able to achieve a lot very early in my career so perhaps I wasn’t as realistic about the challenges involved as I should have been.

The industry has also changed a lot in the last fifteen years. But for me photography has always been more about pursuing a passion than getting a paycheck, which is a good thing as it turns out!

Berlin, Copyright Damaso Reyes

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?

DR: I hope to serve as a bridge between people. I hope that my work can, in some small way, give voice to those who all too often find themselves marginalized and ignored by mainstream society. Personally I feel that as a photographer of color I have a special responsibility to help create a more just society.

D&B: What’s your dream photography project?
DR: It is the project I am working on right now, The Europeans, which is exploring how Europe is changing as the European Union expands. It is a tremendous challenge which has allowed me to grow as an artist and a person. I’ve still got a long way to go but I feel like I have been able to capture some of what I set out to when I began on this road four years ago.

D&B: What’s the biggest (life) lesson you’ve learned through photography?

DR: Patience! Photography is mostly about waiting, not shooting. Sometimes you’re waiting for the light, other times for a grant to let you go and photograph. I have never been good at waiting but I have gotten a lot better at it over the years. I’ve learned to think of my work not as a sprint but as a marathon.

Dodge & Burn is a blog dedicated to documenting a more inclusive history of photography and supporting the work of photographers of color with photographer interviews.

This blog is published by visual artist and writer, Qiana Mestrich. For regular updates on diversity in photography history, follow Qiana on Twitter @mestrich, Like the Dodge & Burn Blog page on Facebook or subscribe to Dodge & Burn by email.


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