(NY Times) Recently the photographer Rose Marie Cromwell went to Panama City to photograph vendors, shoppers and people passing time on Avenida Central, a busy street near Panama’s old town, Casco Viejo.
For years, Avenida Central has been a place for the average resident to run errands. Pausing there to observe the place and its people, “you really get an idea of the diversity of cultures in Panama,” said Ms. Cromwell, who lived in Panama City for a few years beginning in 2006 and returns regularly. “But I don’t know if you’d see it in most guidebooks.”
Ms. Cromwell did her own shopping there. It is, she said, a place to find everything you need — even a haircut on the side of the road — for a good price.
Yet in the years since she has lived full-time in Panama, the street “has gentrified in the most extreme way,” she said. Today a wandering visitor will find upscale hotels, nightclubs and coffee shops a short walk away.
On her visit in June, Avenida Central was beginning to feel endangered. Flocks of pigeons had colonized the area. Ms. Cromwell noticed pumpkins growing right in the middle of the street. “It just seemed a little bit more chaotic,” she said.
Ms. Cromwell shot these photographs with change in mind: “I kind of saw it as this last look at this street that may not be the same as it’s been for a while.”
This man was selling CDs or T-shirts at a stand on Avenida Central. “I thought the tonality in his hair was just so beautiful,” Ms. Cromwell said. “For being a mullet, it was an attractive look.”
There are plenty of fruit stands on Avenida Central. Ms. Cromwell stopped at one when she spotted this woman browsing; she was struck by her lipstick and hair. “I love how people look when they’re just doing their daily shopping,” she said.
Roderick de Gracia, 21, owns a popular fruit and vegetable stand, which has grown over the last few years. Today he employs a handful of family members.
Women get manicures and pedicures and have their eyebrows done on the side of the street on Avenida Central — just as the men in the first photo were visiting a street-side barbershop. “I love her little jumpsuit,” Ms. Cromwell said of the aesthetician here. “That’s a very in-style thing now, too — especially the faded bluejeans.”
Guna Indians, one of Panama’s indigenous groups, come to Avenida Central to do their shopping. Most of them live on the Guna Yala islands, where there are not many stores. “The plastic bag that the man on the right is carrying on his shoulder, it’s ubiquitous,” Ms. Cromwell said. “You can buy these cheap bags, and they’re pretty sturdy — you can stuff all your goods in them.”
Eugenio Chergio Mendoza was socializing with a lottery vendor when Ms. Cromwell met him. “He’s wearing a guayabera,” she said, “and then he’s also wearing a Panamanian hat.” A number of the older men who spend time on Avenida Central dress in this dapper style, she said. And like Mr. Mendoza, many spend time with the lottery vendors.
“That week, 99 was a really popular number because Ricardo Martinelli, the ex-president of Panama, had been arrested in Miami,” said Ms. Cromwell, noting that the number 99 signifies president.
Members of some indigenous groups in Panama wear fabric wrapped around their waists. “This is where a lot of the indigenous groups come to buy their fabric,” Ms. Cromwell said. “It’s amazing fabric. I bought some and I’m going to make curtains.” Some of the shops sell fabric meant for one group; others are all-purpose stores.
“I thought he had striking facial features,” Ms. Cromwell said of the man in blue, who was selling items that she said were likely counterfeit. “His jeans are very in right now in Panama, especially on the street. It’s not hard to find ripped jeans.”
His shirt, which says “Paris,” and his necklace, with a pendant shaped like a marijuana leaf, are also popular items at the moment, she said. But she wasn’t attracted only to his outfit. “I liked his style,” she said. “I think a lot of it comes from not just what he wears but how he holds himself.”
Ms. Cromwell photographed Cesar Bustamante one Sunday, right after payday. “People had gotten paid, so there were a lot of people out,” she said. Especially on Sunday, people dress up to look nice.” Mr. Bustamante told her that his parents had immigrated to Panama from the Caribbean. “I liked the gold, the shirt, the hair — it was kind of formal but also very Caribbean style,” she said. “Just kind of casual.”
Ms. Cromwell was struck by the “overload of color” this Guna woman was wearing. Her handkerchief is “kind of like a modesty handkerchief,” she said. “Women wear that as a sign of respect when they leave the house.” The mola — the embroidered squares around her waist — are popular among tourists. “It’s a huge export for them,” Ms. Cromwell said. And the bracelets, which are worn on the legs as well as the wrists, are given to a woman at her coming-of-age ceremony.
“The older generation on the street takes a lot of pride in how they dress,” Ms. Cromwell said. She photographed this man not far from a street where older people go to spend time together during the day. “All of them are dressed in more formal ways,” she said. “And you can see kind of the Caribbean influence.”
She was drawn to yellow once again when she photographed this vendor pushing a shaved ice cart. “They put sugary flavoring and condensed milk on top,” Ms. Cromwell said, “and it’s just a very typical Panamanian street snack.”