Panama City, Panamá: Just Because It’s Awesome

Diana film camera portrait of a construction worker Panama City, Panamá
Construction worker in redeveloping Casco Viejo. Panama City, Panamá. All rights reserved.

Panama City, Panamá is a city in transition. One of the brighter emerging economies in Latin America, it’s home to a stable democracy. Markets and services are blossoming with cash flow, in part from their ownership of the Panama Canal.

This does not make it perfect, and there is still much work to do. But Panama has come a very long way, in a relatively short amount of time. For that, the country deserves respect.

Some might look at the new highrise apartments, condos, and office buildings in the eastern part of the city and think it has already emerged. But as is common in many cities, development also comes at the expense of redevelopment. You might call it gentrification.

For all of the wired modernism in neighborhoods like Punta Pacifica, there is old Panamá on the west side of the city. Here it is not highrise and exclusive living, or wealthy, save for parts of Casco Antiguo. But it is colorful, vibrant, and public.

Casco Antiguo (aka Casco Viejo), is the old historic district, and redevelopment is in-process. This means one building could house or staff well-to-do and cater to tourism or nightlife, while just next door could be a family living in poverty. It does not take a doctorate to know which has a future in this neighborhood.

Regardless of how we feel about it, this is the direction many cosmopolitan cities are now taking. And who are we to tell any country or foreign city how to handle something like this?

Contextual understanding is important, and I get where concerned locals are coming from. But if standards-of-living can and do improve broadly, then it’s shallow to expect a neighborhood to stay poor, just so gringos like me can say it’s authentic. That discussion, in more profound aspects, is up to Panamá.

Nonetheless, the people of Panama City regardless their circumstances, are truly lovely people. Smiles and laughter are common. Conversations are lively, or gentle. Spirits are good. Food is delicious. Even street hustlers and annoying taxi drivers have their charms. Operation Just Cause is in the past, and I experienced no anti-Americanism. I had a great time.

By no means does any of this rationalize squalid conditions some Panamanians still live in, such as in El Chorillo or Santa Ana. But there is a pride and optimism in Panamá, and that cannot be denied.

Photography notes:

It is in the neighborhoods of Casco Antiguo and Santa Ana that I shot most of my Panama City photos during my February visit. But there are snap shots from around downtown areas Marbella and El Cangrejo, too. I snuck in a few pictures from Carnaval, but during the festivities I just put the camera away and partied. Plenty of local photographers were on the scene, anyway. 

The photo you see above is a portrait, not a candid or staged. I walked up and motioned with my camera, and he nodded. I took the shot, nodded back and was on my way. No words spoken. But it was cool as it gets, and it’s my favorite shot from Panamá. And yes, it’s film. 

 

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“The Ethics of Street Photography”

The Creative Independent features artists in their own voice – ranging from thought-provoking to armchair bullshit – and is one of my regular blog reads lately.

Recently there was an interview with Daniel Arnold about street photography, that I think is worth sharing.

Small Town Mayor. Big Integrity.

portrait of forest grove oregon mayor pete truax
Forest Grove, Oregon Mayor Pete Truax. 2015 MLK Jr Day March. Forest Grove, OR.

It would be nice if more small town city councils had guts now. Mayor Pete Truax of Forest Grove, OR does. Unfortunately others on his city council do not, in regards to sanctuary cities and immigration.

Forest Grove, OR is 25% Latino. It also has a small university. On MLK Jr Day in 2015, I photographed a march in Forest Grove done in the spirit of Dr. King’s march on Washington D.C. in 1963.

Unfortunately, for a majority on Forest Grove’s city council, all of that is worth ignoring now.

One Window, Two Different Shots

It’s a good creative exercise to see how many ways you can shoot the same subject. I like to photograph the same window, just to see how different I can do it each time.

Above are two photos of my home studio window. Both while I stood in exactly the same spot. The results are completely different.

One obviously is the outdoor scene on a snow day. The window screen is visible, too.

The second picture is my reflection in the window, with my wall and portrait background visible. The rain water on the window shows us what is outside. If you look close, you’ll see trees as well.

Wherever you are, there is always something to photograph, and when you open your mind to it there are myriad ways to shoot the same thing.

Glass Houses

I find the fetish for glass covered new buildings odd. Not being an architect, maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps the new developments that I see in my travels are more efficient, when constructed this way.

If so, I still find them lacking in style and imagination. This aesthetic is common around the world now. There is no local identity or culture in them. It’s plain and boring.

It’s strange to me that we live in a world so consumed with the notion of privacy, that new office buildings and condominiums are seemingly nothing but window towers. People inside can watch passers-by on the street but would likely cry foul if the passers-by turned and looked at them.

This seems too insular and one-way to me, and it encourages distance and isolation in urban areas where vibrant public interaction is essential. New and old buildings are necessary. But Dublin, like many great cities, deserves better than repetitive glass houses.