I was scheduled to take a bus from Battambang to Siem Reap on Sunday. Human Gallery was one of the items on my list that was closed on weekends. There was something in me that whispered that I should not skip the place. So, I decided to stay in Battambang for one more day. I wanted to meet the person who runs this gallery in a small shop. A professional photographer, Joseba Etxebarria left his secure career and comfortable life in Spain many years ago to pursue his dream, a dream that turned into an extraordinary story, and now into a cause to help humanity.
I planned to stay there for 10-15 minutes; however, I ended up spending more than two hours listening to Joseba’s story and appreciating his work. Those were the most valuable two hours I have ever spent anywhere during my travels. The tiny room full of pictures of human faces taken in various countries was a world in itself. I think that’s why the greeting board at the front gate says: “welcome to a different world.”
Joseba has traveled to 97 countries so far. It may seem to be normal, but there is an extraordinary part in his story. He bicycled for more than four years traveling across 29 countries covering 37,000 kilometers. He told me that he stayed with most of the people he took pictures of except a few. That’s how he could touched their lives so deeply. He used local mode of communication in some printed form to tell the people why he was doing what he was doing.
The pictures displayed in the gallery are the touching human story in their true essence. It seemed that these stories are of some different world yet exist in this world. Each photo I looked at wanted to say something. It was a bit of emotional ride for those couple of hours walking by the wall of human faces.
What inspired him to start the project? I asked. Joseba’s reply was even more moving than his work. He softly said that how else I would have known these people and told their stories to the world leveraging his professional experience and skills.
He showed me another project he did. He asked kids to draw their dreams on the stock papers with the color pencils he carried on his bicycle. This project led the way to his current engagement in Battambang- supporting and educating poor kids in Cambodia. The drawings found their perfect place on covers of notebooks he is distributing to poor kids in Cambodia.
My final question to him if he had any plans in the near future? Do we know future? I don’t know, he replied. He added, we should do whatever is good for humanity.
I don’t know what made me to go to this place. Maybe, I would know in future. But, I don’t know yet.