With the exception of a stenciled depiction of a military figure on a cars fuel cap, a mural to Jesús Héctor Gallego Herrera, the Colombian priest killed in Panama after his opposition to the Omar Torrijos regime, is the only human face that appears in Arturo Soto’s images of Panama. This is probably quite fitting given the tension that resides within the work and their existence in a space that feels significantly removed from our preconceptions of the country. On the whole, the images present a rather bleak view of a country famed for its global presence as a holiday destination. Very little of the Panama seen by foreigners is shown to us by Soto, who has instead purposefully directed our attention to scenes only seen by locals at most. There is the hint of civilization residing within the images, but this quickly drowned out by the overall emptiness of the spaces. The suggestion of forwards economic progression is merely hinted at with Soto shifting his lens to document scenes that appear as though they could have been shot twenty or thirty years ago.
When talking about the project, Soto said, “I am interested in depicting spaces that are very present and common, but that somehow people don’t seem to notice. Sometimes, this mental blocking has to do with familiarity, although I believe these spaces are frequently ignored because they challenge conservative notions of progress and national identity in times of economic growth”. In accordance with Soto’s stated intentions, the images do project a stillness and uncertainty regarding the prospects of a country that we rarely make much attention of in the West. The images are primarily bleak in their outlook on the country, rendering our preconceptions the assumed colour and liveliness of this country mute as we are presented with a series of disparate images, existing only in tones of grey.
See more of Soto's work on his website.
— James Brown