Review by Douglas Stockdale •
The foil embossed book cover with undulating lines of the type font appears as though it is shimmering in the humid heat provides a hint as to what lies within. The third image in Arturo Soto’s photobook, In the Heat, is a wonderful sublime urban landscape photograph of Panama that was photographed through a window that has a large X taped to it; thus, signaling that this book is not going to be typical landscape investigation of this tropical tourist vacation destination. The lower contrast printed images in conjunction with the slightly Greenish-yellow tonality provide an unsettling appearance that are yet another subtle visual clue that something is off kilter in this Paradise. The need for a careful reading is clearly being signaled.
We are provided one introductory view of the canal that is the huge economic engine that this Central American county has power over that can have sway over a worldwide economy. The canal connects two huge expanses of water at the continental mid-point and is the one constant that continues to keep Panama an incredibly important Central American county for many other outside governmental and business interests. The historical perspective of the canal, as well as the county’s short turbulent history, is elegantly described in the essay by the Canadian historianKevin Coleman.
That said, being an American reading a visual story about the events in Panama leaves me at a disadvantage as to how their story is seen from the Panamanian point-of-view. My perspective has been subtlety filtered by the US government, which subtly influence the American news. We were told that Panama was run by a “bad guy”, who we have since learned was created by our governments own making; trading a version of Democracy for the conduit of drugs, which did not end well for him or this country.
Soto states “The narrative avoids the typical imagery highlighted by the travel industry, in which color is used to promote prepackaged experiences, leaving out whatever contradicts that illusory lifestyle…. My practice focuses on the sociopolitical markers contained in urban environments, considering these as a sum of imaginaries that transcend physical space…. I am particularly drawn towards spaces that offer numerous possibilities of interpretation due to their apparent neutrality.”
We are taken on a silent tour of the common ground of Panama. We observe the city rising from dirty bowels of this tropical location. No one is present or being observed and we are left to study the infrastructure and landscape for clues about those who live here. It is obvious that this is a tropical location and that living conditions vary greatly indicating the economic separation of the society.
An urban landscape does create an interesting cultural portrait as the structures, sidewalks (if any), and roadways were man-built and are maintained by the hands of those living here. It is engaging to observe what Soto documented as what is deemed important or left to nature to dispose of; a strong indication of personal and societies cultural priorities. Soto’s thought-provoking visual investigation is poignant and poetic which allows us plenty of space for introspection.
Arturo Soto – In The Heat
Photographer: Arturo Soto, born Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and residing, Oxford, UK
Publisher: the Eriskay Connection, Netherlands copyright 2018
Essay: Kevin Coleman
Hardcover book, Flexibound with bronze foil, sewn binding, Duotone printing by NPN Printers (Breda, NL)
Photobook designer: Rob van Hoesel