Meet The Festival Series photographer Damian Nigro: Every Person Is Beautiful
Meet Damian Nigro. Our new addition to our camera crew for The Festival Series at Nottingham (February 12-19).
Usually, in interviews, there are some things you think that perhaps won’t make the final cut. But the story of Damian so far is just incredible that we just kept it as it is. We sincerely cannot wait to show the world what he is capable of with a camera. Sit back and enjoy!
Melvin TF: Hi Damian! You possess an incredible number of experiences. Tell us a bit about yourself, so the world will know who our new photographer for The Festival Series will be.
- Damian: Hello Melvin and thanks for having me for this interview. I was born in Luxembourg in 1981, went to school there, and graduated in mathematics and physics. Since I could not really what kind of career I could go after with that background, I studied communications and cultural project management in France.
- I got active in entrepreneurship as soon as I legally could and built my first company at age 18 with money, I had made from delivering papers and working as a waiter. We were active in marketing and event management – mostly corporate non-sense. I also built an underground music production structure and record label besides, which turned out to be a lot less lucrative but endlessly more exciting. We produced a few dozen of albums with a bunch of metal, punk, and hip-hop bands. Back then, I was drumming in a few bands and DJing in the drum’n’bass and reggae scene myself and I ended up playing and producing over 500 shows in +/- 30 different countries over 7 years during my young adult years.
- This led me to build another company later with a focus on cultural project management and consulting for various European institutions and Luxembourg ministries. With my business network growing very quickly, I quickly got the opportunity to open a nightclub and concert venue in the heart of Luxembourg city which made it pretty much impossible to tour and travel like I had been doing over the previous years.
- I was missing it a lot and I was feeling I was falling back into the corporate money and social status trap so, with life’s randomness helping a little bit, I put an end to most of my commercial activities around late 2010 and decided to go back to traveling. A fire wiped out my Luxembourg home where my main office was also located. The person responsible for the fire happened to be poor and not insured so … you know … bad beat :-)
- I was shooting many photos back then but never with professional intention. I was simply documenting what I was doing. Generally speaking, I am not a great fan of the concept of ‘work’. I actively try to make it through this life without working … or at least, without having the impression to do so. Doing something solely for money does not make sense in my little monkey brain - except maybe investing or trading stocks and crypto obviously.
Melvin TF: You seem to be a very busy personality with not much free time. How did you end up in the poker industry? Are you playing yourself as well (live/online)?
- Damian: I had been exposed to Poker by a friend in the autumn of 2009 and I was decently successful online. I soon discovered live Poker too and started to travel to places in Germany, France, and Belgium to play since we have no legal live Poker options in Luxembourg. I did ok and when I was not playing myself, I was offering casino managers to shoot some random photos for them to use to promote their events, but I had no business in mind with this until people started to call me actually to offer me paid gigs. My blog the-rounder.net had apparently attracted some attention in the scene. I was merely using it to stay in touch with my brother back then (who also got seriously into Poker) and a bunch of friends who would sometimes travel with me.
- I soon started to blog and shoot for major Poker brands around Europe and eventually teamed up with PokerFirma to become one of their worldwide correspondents.
- I’ve basically been traveling non-stop since then and progressively pretty much gave up on online Poker over the years since new territory regulations made it a pain in the neck to keep up with when changing location constantly. I still play loads today but mostly live and mostly cash games since it fits my schedule a lot better. I have a strong preference for PLO 4-card games, but I’ve been getting back into NLHE tournaments lately.
Melvin TF: Recently you joined our Festival Team. Are you excited? Do you have any prior experiences with The Festival Series?
- Damian: I’m thrilled to jump on board the Festival Team! I’ve been in touch with Martin ‘Franke’ von Zweigbergk for years now but only digitally and somehow, we never really could make a partnership happen because of bad travel timing but I’ve been following the project on social media and writing about it on my blog or for PokerFirma. I was invited again for the Bratislava leg last autumn but could not attend since I was playing in Colombia at that point, so Franke and I decided to make the Nottingham stop a real rendez-vous.
Melvin TF: Photography is your thing, or a passion. Tell us a bit more about it. What made you start a career in photography?
- Damian: Photography is actually not really my thing. Or, at least, I never knew. I never studied it. I just happened to have a camera with me all the time since my teenage years. What’s really my thing is the documentation process and the fact of shining a light on what people are doing and how they are doing it. For a while, I was traveling with the support of a cinema production company taking care of the research and scouting for documentary movies. This business took a huge devastating blow during the recent pandemic and we ‘threw away’ projects worth millions of Euros in development since the cinema business completely collapsed in Europe … and never really came back. We sold a few things to major streaming and video-on-demand platforms but mostly for the sake of having someone see the films. The money was gone.
- I eventually added a drone pilot license to my image maker’s arsenal, and I like to disappear in remote areas without light pollution to shoot the stars and the planets.
- Except for Poker, I don’t really shoot a lot of people. I like landscapes, cityscapes, engineering, and architecture when it comes to photography. Shooting Poker is something I do because I play a lot myself and spend a lot of time in the scene. I think I will stop shooting Poker when I’ll stop playing.
Melvin TF: In live poker, pictures are basically ‘’part of the furniture’’. What is the most important for you to make the best possible pictures? Any preferences in terms of the type of player?
- Damian: I focus on emotions. I got pretty good at reading tells, not because I’m a top profiler but because I’m the kind of photographer who might focus for 10 minutes on one player waiting for a posture or a look I’ve been waiting for. When I shoot Poker players, I have the photo I am looking for already in mind. The challenge is to achieve a great shot without directing people. I have close to no experience in studios and with models. That’s one of the aspects of photography I reject the most. I want my photography to be truly intense without falling in the traps of voyeurism and annoying people. One must realize that many people don’t want or don’t like to get shot but I get surprisingly much positive feedback even from people who don’t like to appear in photos. That’s probably what satisfies me most. Every person has something beautiful or interesting that can be emphasized. My main goals are to find that thing and try to bring it to light. I also like to handle a poker room like a street or square in terms of capturing moments. Someone told me one day my Poker photography reminded him of street photography. I never had conceptualized it that way before, but he was spot on.
Melvin TF: Tell us a bit more about TheRounder! What is it? And what about the BeatTheRake and Allin4ukraine promotions? So many great initiatives!
- Damian: The-rounder.net is my personal blog. No more – no less. I blog about where I go and what I see. It usually comes with loads of photos with a focus progressively shifting from the Poker game itself towards the Poker environment. I have always been running charity and solidarity projects with my Poker winnings. It’s probably a way to wash myself from the feeling of guilt for playing cards for amounts that other humans on this planet don’t have to feed their children.
- #allin4ukraine is a hashtag I use since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and Beat the Rake is an attempt to promote it together with participating Poker promoters and fellow players who want to participate. When things started to go south in Ukraine, our first spontaneous response to the war with the likes of fellow photographers David Pichler & Lars Hermes or Christophe Mendes, Ali Sahib & Tun Marques, was to travel to Ukraine ourselves in order to provide food and med deliveries for vulnerable humans and abandoned animals. One of my ex-partners is Ukrainian and I have old friends there that I know from my musical past. Some have unfortunately died. It’s been a horrible time. We also took part in multiple evacuation operations and documented what we could with our cameras and drones gathering media for us to share online in an attempt to motivate people to donate and to provide documentation material to local and European authorities.
- When the dust started to settle a little bit a few weeks into the war, we quickly found ourselves facing very annoying administration problems concerning transfer fees, blocked cards because we had been using them at Ukrainian ATMs and, generally speaking, legal aspects of us moving donated money and material in and out of Ukraine as private individuals. The question arose whether to create an independent legal structure, but the burden of administration aspects made me choose another option when it comes to where I want to invest my energy: on the field, not in an office.
- Since I was born and grew up in Luxembourg, I naturally and quickly got in touch with an association of Ukrainians there. They rapidly got involved in multiple ambitious projects right after the start of the war ranging from moral support over professional training or integration programs for refugees to humanitarian aid in and outside Ukraine.
- One of the latest and most likely most ambitious projects emerging from their Luxembourg offices is a global fundraising campaign called 'UKRAINE IS CALLING' aiming to raise 10 million Euro to buy and restore 112 rescue vehicles in order to bring them to Ukraine for the renewal of the decaying local fleet of ambulances and firetrucks. The aim of all our actions is to actively save lives or to help others in doing so.
DISCLAIMER: All photos attached to the article have been sent to us by the interviewee. Those photos were not created by The Festival Series Team but by the owner of the photos as indicated by the watermark of the photos. If you like those photos please consider contacting them.