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.