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Titanic, 2017. All photos by José Castrellón. Courtesy the artist

Issue 124, Spring 2024

Strange Parallels

Looking closely at the other Panama City

A humongous conch shell, fenced in by chain-link. A tourist trap shaped like a lopsided ocean liner. An alligator with a rare genetic mutation that makes its entire body white. These images and more make up Palindrome, the Panamanian artist José Castrellón’s photographic exploration of Panama City, Florida. Castrellón embarked on the project after growing curious about the Gulf Coast town’s connection to the same-named capital city of his birth country, 3,400 miles south along the Caribbean Sea. He found answers in old newspapers and historical records, but also in less-expected liminal spaces: kitschy gift shops, empty beaches, construction zones, military bases. Across these photographs, Castrellón affords the same level of attention and meticulousness to each site and scene, whether it’s a symbol of commerce or a totem of spirituality. The resulting project is part dossier of evidence, part catalogue of visual metaphors; Castrellón documents disorienting parallels between the two Panamas while simultaneously telling a story about a place where nature and artifice meld, like the colors of the sky as the sun sets over the Gulf.

Conch, 2017

Pearl, 2018

Mall Entrance, 2017

Pyramid, 2017

3 Crosses, 2017

Fort Tyndall, Air Force Base, 2017

José Castrellón

José Castrellón is a New York–based photographer from Panamá. His work has been featured in M Le Monde, Domus, Esquire Russia, and Fisheye. His work has been exhibited at Tate Modern; Museo del Barrio, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome; Medellín Art Museum; and others. Castrellón works with photography, video, found objects, and text, and moves between conceptual and documentary realms, taking history as a point of departure to address anthropological and sociological concerns. He is interested in the cultural modifications of society and the physical transformation of urban and rural spaces as brought about by commercialism, construction, colonialism, and geopolitical conflict.