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Musings: Gabriele Galimberti’s Couch Surfing

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Berglind Gunnarsdòttir, 33 - Reykjavik, Iceland

“I arrived in Reykjavik on a Saturday, at one o’clock in the morning. In one of the emails we had exchanged to decide where and when to meet, Berglind had sent me a map with some directions to reach a disco-bar in the city centre. “How will I recognize you?” I had asked her, and she said, “Don’t worry, it won’t be difficult. I’ll be the woman in red.” I got to the Club22 by taxi and I entered with my big backpack. Red hair, red dress, red nail varnish, red shoes and stockings. No, it wasn’t so difficult to find her. We danced until 5 in the morning and.then we went to her house, where everything was mostly red, cat included. Besides nourishing her passion for this color, Berglind is an architect. I wonder what color the houses she designs are!” —Gabriele Galimberti

Some people try a new adventure, enjoy it, take a few pictures and walk away. That’s not photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s way of doing things. Galimberti discovered the practice of “couch surfing” on a trip to China. Couch surfing is based around an online service that connects backpacking travelers to hosts who can accommodate them in their homes.

Galimberti says, “In China, if you don’t speak Chinese or if you don’t have an interpreter is quite hard to travel alone and communicate with people, especially when you are not in a major city. Sometimes I spent the whole day without speaking to anyone.”

“The first night that I couch surfed it wasn’t comfortable!” he continues. “I had to sleep on the floor with my sleeping bag in the same room with another ten (or maybe more) Chinese students. Even though it was really uncomfortable I decided to stay one more night and then switch. So two nights later I ended at another host’s house. This time the host was a really rich woman with a huge house. I slept in a guest room with my private bathroom. This woman was the owner of a factory that produces toys for the international market.”

“Within less than a week I had shared and experienced the lives of two different Chinese people, two people on the opposite ends of society. Thanks to couch surfing I was able not just to travel in a unknown country, but I was also able to travel in somebody’s else life, to experience how the local people live in their own place. From that moment on I started to take a portrait of all the couch surfers that hosted me during that trip, and I took notes to write stories about their lives.”

Back in Italy, Galimberti kept these pictures and stories on his desk for a year, and at a certain point, he says, the idea to make this into a larger project came to him.

“I wanted to travel the world for 24 months and never use a hotel. I wanted to share my whole trip with couch surfers. I wanted to meet at least 100 of them, in many different places of the world.  I wanted to make big portraits of this new, young multicultural community.”

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Dimitri Procofieff, 22—Geneva, Switzerland. Dimitri grew up all over the world, but now his home is in Geneva.
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Brenda Fernandez, 33—Manila, The Philippines. Brenda is unmarried, which she says is unusual for her age in the Philippines. “I live alone and far away from my family, I have a good job, and I get paid more than most of the men around here, and then I travel. I travel a lot, everywhere, and I do it alone… and I love all of these things!” she says.
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Nani Marquarase, 29—Barara, The Fiji Islands. Nani lives with her husband and two children in a home made of corrugated metal. At the time this was taken she was eight months pregnant. As soon as I stepped through the door, felt the hot humidity and saw the rainwater shower, my first urge was to get out and get away…but then, after an hour of breathing the atmosphere of kindness and joy in the home of these wonderful, happy, vibrant, simple people, I already felt like a member of their family.
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Tom, 30, and Jane, 31—Bangkok, Thailand. Tom and Mary Jane are musicians who play music together and live together but are not a couple. They have a penchant for 70’s style.
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Deisy Medel, 28—Veracruz, Mexico. Deisy works as a photographer for a local newspaper and lives in a little apartment in an area that many consider unsafe, but she’s happy where she is.
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Olga, 22—Kiev, Ukraine. Olga is a vegetarian naturist who gives out free hugs in public.

 Galimberti spent two years in 58 different countries and took more than 100 portraits of couch surfers. This body of work will be published in a book by Random House in June 2015. View more of Galimberti’s photography on his website.

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