Loma Partida Island, Panama

The island is appropriately named "split hills," as an outlet of the vast Chiriquí Lagoon slices right through it. There are only 225 inhabitants, and many of them are from the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé community, the largest of Panama's indigenous peoples. 

I met Eduardo, a farmer and native of the island, who walks the thick jungle brush barefoot and can haul tree stumps on his back. I also met Christaedom as she was washing clothes in the stream. She is a young mother of two and of the Ngöbe-Buglé.

I fell asleep each night in front of a large open (screened) window, to the lull of waves lapping the dock and an expanse of darkness before me full of flickering stars. I haven't felt peace like that in a long time.

David, Panama on route to Loma Partida Island

Arrived to the small city of David at 5am, and watched the first rays of light peek through the expansive Panama sky. Caught the merchants setting up their wares in the marketplace just as the streets began to awaken. In the soft haze of early morning colors glow more vividly and people cut through the crisp air with quiet intention.

Ruins of Panama Viejo

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Panamà Viejo, are the remains of the original city, founded in 1519. It was a flourishing port city on the Panama Bay for over a century, but was attacked numerous times by pirates, withstood a major earthquake, and was ravaged by fires. It was ultimately destroyed by the invasion of Welsh pirate Henry Morgan, and only ruins stand today. It's a beautiful, quiet area to walk around for a couple of hours, and the modern high rises in the background make for an interesting contrast.

Panama City: Photographing People in Calidonia

Whenever I’m asked what I like to photograph, it’s hard to form an answer that fits. I’d typically say, “environmental portraits,” (like people in street scenes) but what I’m really after is more elusive and has a lot more to do with the emotion it evokes in me, rather than the subject matter itself. That emotive moment can happen in a variety of ways, sometimes I’m “in the zone” -- obsessively seeking to create compositions from my surroundings (it can go on for hours); other times my mind is elsewhere entirely, but suddenly I’m drawn to a subject and cannot stop staring, forming and reforming the potential image in my mind; or there are those instances when I find a perfect backdrop but it’s missing an essential human element that would bring it to life, so I sit and wait for the right person to walk into the frame. These three scenarios considered (I’m sure there are more, and other street and documentary photographers would have their own versions), what I like to photograph most, plain and simple... are people.

I’m captivated by certain odd characters, the texture of aging skin, the exuberant carefreeness of children playing, the impassioned oblivion of teenage lovers… or sometimes it’s just the pattern of a dress, an old man’s sharp and timeless style, the intense, stoic gaze of an indigenous woman in traditional garb, or the way light falls on a person — the shadows creating an art form all their own.

I went back to the Calidonia district on a mission to take some pictures of people. As I wrote in my previous post it was a challenge because it proved impossible to be discrete; each time I lifted the camera, many sets of eyes rested on me. I tried out a few different sneaky techniques, or sometimes asked to take a photo... "¿Puedo tomar una foto, por favor?" There were a few blurry ones and many mediocre ones, but in the end I came away with a set of images that I feel excited about that seem to paint a picture of the place in all its bright colors and gritty textures. 

Panama City: Day 1, Calidonia District

Jumped off the Estación 5 de Mayo metro stop and found myself in a deteriorating, somewhat sketchy, area of the city. The streets were jam-packed with locals, shopping bags in hand, children flung over a shoulder or strung along crying; tired street vendors at little tables selling everything from worn electronics, to cheap plastic toys, to kaleidoscopes of fresh fruit; dodging yellow taxis and "diablo rojos," the wildly graffitied school buses used as public transport. I was compelled by the neon peeling paint of sagging buildings, each one with a unique sign fashioned to it's facade, the multitude of jumbled layers was like viewing a small town fair from a dizzying old rollercoaster or how I imagine seedy areas of New York in the 80s when mom & pop stores still thrived.

I was nervous to photograph, especially after two people approached me, having seen me with a camera, letting me know that if I didn't put it away, I would probably get robbed. Ironically, those moments are when the desire to photograph burns in me the most. I left the district having shot maybe 2 photographs, and as I walked around a more touristy, quiet area, I felt bored. I needed to go back and capture the complex patchwork of colors and chaos that just made my eyes roll around in my head and my heart pound.

I went back and spun through the streets as quickly as I could, tripping over curbs, bumping into passersby; my eye glued to the viewfinder (I'm "old school" in that I still solely use the viewfinder), finger poised on the shutter. I was afraid to photograph people -- fearing their reaction and fearing being judged -- since every time I framed the shot in my mind, the moment I lifted the camera, the subject (and 20 other people on the street) would stare at me. Having photographed in many cities, this was new to me, and completely unnerving -- that with thousands of people on the street, one woman with a camera could possibly attract that much attention.

Tomorrow my goal is to go back to Calidonia and photograph people... It's the kind of challenge that makes me become a better photographer.