On Finding Humanity (A Photo Gallery in Battambang)
I met a photographer yesterday.
He’s an unassuming, Spanish, portrait photographer who lives in Battambang, Cambodia named Joseba Etxbarria. He’s a humanitarian photographer in that he humanizes humans through photography. Given the recent news cycles, it was a refreshing visit.
The vast majority of Joseba’s portfolio is portrait work. Compelling portrait work.
I walked through that gallery impressed. He does more than capture winsome portraits of people. He captures the soul of the person. There are culture and heart in his art.
How does he do this?
My superficial American mind was wondering about things like lighting and lenses, as he shared his gallery with me over cobra-infused rice wine (This is apparently a thing in Southeast Asia. Who knew? There was a literal cobra in the bottle.) But there had to be more. You don’t get these sort of shots by simply showing up with the right equipment. There’s more.
Joseba has traveled to some of the most difficult parts of the world. He’s bicycled through war zones. He’s lived on the streets with homeless people. He pointed to each of the photo’s returning gaze from the walls of his gallery. With about 4 exceptions, he intimately knows each of his subjects. He knows their names. He knows their lives and their context.
He’s lived with them, in hovels and street corners.
That’s the difference.
Work, art, and ministry are more nuanced than technical expertise and hard skills. At the end of the day, it’s about the people and empathy, not ego and power.
Joseba’s humble, beautiful and important gallery tucked away in a back ally of Battambang, Cambodia is proof of this.