King of Fish
Project
Colon, Panama
2007-ongoing

“King of Fish” is a long-term project on the history and communities living in Coco Solo, a former U.S. military base near the Caribbean terminus of the Panama Canal. When the canal administration, along with the “Canal Zone,” was transferred to Panama at the end of 1999, the barracks in Coco Solo were repurposed as public housing. Three hundred Panamanian families moved in. Among them was Vladimir “Pocho” Utria, a young Panamanian man growing up in the early 2000s. Pocho and his family and neighbors lived surrounded by riches of inordinate proportions, with two of the largest global ports and an important free-trade zone a stone’s throw from their community. But they lacked access to basic amenities such as running water, electricity, public transportation, trash collection, and police or state protection. While they lived in the proximity of a different sort of abundance—tropical plants, wildlife, and the Caribbean Sea—the wealth of the global economy didn’t touch them,

The project began as a collaborative portrait series with Pocho, presenting his transition from childhood to adulthood in the midst of a landscape suspended between natural paradise and oppressive dystopia. Over time, it has expanded beyond Pocho’s story and that of his immediate community to consider the history of the site and the hegemonic forces that intersected there and in the U.S. Canal Zone as a whole. By looking closely at one place and community over time, the project underscores the ways colonial and neo-imperial power have shaped global capitalism and consumer culture, leaving many to eke out an existence in the literal shadow of globalization.

“King of Fish” is a long-term project on the history and communities living in Coco Solo, a former U.S. military base near the Caribbean terminus of the Panama Canal. When the canal administration, along with the “Canal Zone,” was transferred to Panama at the end of 1999, the barracks in Coco Solo were repurposed as public housing. Three hundred Panamanian families moved in. Among them was Vladimir “Pocho” Utria, a young Panamanian man growing up in the early 2000s. Pocho and his family and neighbors lived surrounded by riches of inordinate proportions, with two of the largest global ports and an important free-trade zone a stone’s throw from their community. But they lacked access to basic amenities such as running water, electricity, public transportation, trash collection, and police or state protection. While they lived in the proximity of a different sort of abundance—tropical plants, wildlife, and the Caribbean Sea—the wealth of the global economy didn’t touch them,

The project began as a collaborative portrait series with Pocho, presenting his transition from childhood to adulthood in the midst of a landscape suspended between natural paradise and oppressive dystopia. Over time, it has expanded beyond Pocho’s story and that of his immediate community to consider the history of the site and the hegemonic forces that intersected there and in the U.S. Canal Zone as a whole. By looking closely at one place and community over time, the project underscores the ways colonial and neo-imperial power have shaped global capitalism and consumer culture, leaving many to eke out an existence in the literal shadow of globalization.