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.