Rags-to-riches Fil-Am mechanic/photographer opens exhibit in La Habra Gallery, Southern California

Lensman Romeo Balboa (middle) holds his granddaughter as he poses with fellow Los Angeles photographers Rudy Autor (left) and Benny Uy (right). Behind them are some of Balboa’s frames that are on display at the La Habra Art Gallery. The exhibit called Flash and Strokes also features the works of visual artist Edwin Tuazon.

ORDINARILY, travel and journey are interchangeable words. But when aiming for subtle shades of meaning, “travel” means a literal movement from one place to another and “journey” refers to a non-physical passage.

So, first let me tell you the story about the travel.

About two dozens photographs of places, animals and landscapes are on display at the La Habra Art Gallery. They were captured on frames by Romeo “Romy” Balboa, who is known here as the friendly neighborhood mechanic and as a gifted lensman.

Balboa accumulated the photographs during years of travels to places such as France, Italy, Tanzania in east Africa, Toledo in Spain and to at least four states in the US.

The colors, moods and appeal were competently encapsulated in Balboa’s frames. I think every one of them would make for a nice wallpaper — perfect to look at when the eyes and mind are exhausted from working the computer.

I want to share them. I want to share my travels. Because I know that not everyone can do it (travel),” explained Balboa, even pointing out the many impediments to travelling such as money, time, legal travel restrictions and as well as physical and mental wellness.

Of course, not everyone can work the lens as good as Balboa does and not everyone could afford to have all the equipment and gadgets that such a level of photography requires.

And most of all, being able to travel almost without legal restrictions is a privilege of an American citizen like him — which brings me to tell the story of Balboa’s journey.

Photography was already a passion for Balboa even when he was still in high school in Angeles City, Pampanga. He recalled repeatedly borrowing a friend’s Olympus camera while learning the curve to his passion.

But photography wasn’t the one that started him to an incredible and successful journey. His skills as an auto mechanic did.

Balboa and a friend were able to get visas to Saipan where they cleaned a patch of land and built a motor shop. Their skills were on demand but the problem was that the people in the neighborhood couldn’t afford to pay them.

They paid us with food. Sabi ko, ‘di kami pwedeng mabuhay na ganito,” Balboa recalled.

So Balboa looked for someone who could actually pay him for his skills. He found Scott Klassen.

Klassen showed Balboa two broken trucks in his yard and challenged the mechanic to show what he got under his sleeves.

After three days, I got one of the trucks running. And he (Klassen) hired me,” Balboa narrated.

The partnership and friendship bloomed until Klassen realized that he had to let Balboa go so the latter could be properly compensated for his skills.

Klassen asked his brother-in-law, David Riddel, who lived in Oregon, in the US, to help Balboa get into the mainland.

Balboa was also able to impress Riddell with his skills and dedication to work. And after a little less than a year, Riddell prodded Balboa to go and “seek greener pasture.”

The mechanic joined his brother in Los Angeles. He worked for a car company for sometime, saved money and built his own motor shop later on.

Today, Balboa owns the building in Wilmington where his motor shop is situated, owns a house in Long Beach and owns a fleet of 20 vehicles.

All of them (cars) running,” Balboa jested.

So there goes Balboa’s journey in a nutshell. How he sees places from behind his lens when he travels around the world, derives a lot on how he got from there to here in a journey called life.

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  1. Pingback: Flash and Strokes Exhibit Opening Reception – LA HABRA ART ASSOCIATION GALLERY

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