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Gallery

Portraits of young men in Panama showing off their bikes—eclectically decorated, variously macho, and altogether priti.

José Castrellón’s photographs of Panamanian men and their decorated bikes—equipped with air horns, flags, sound systems—show how pride and flair can be invested into any form of self-expression, no matter its modesty. But it’s the dudes and how they pose beside their vehicles that are the real stars.

Castrellón was born in Panama in 1980. He won the IILA FotoGrafia Award First Prize in 2009. His work is exhibited widely internationally.

All images © copyright the artist, all rights reserved.

TMN:

Where did the idea of doing a series around these bikes originate?

José Castrellón:

When I was young, I’d see them around the city and in the countryside, and it stayed in the back of my mind.

TMN:

What do these bikes mean to these men?

José Castrellón:

Actually I have never asked them about that. But my point of view, and the reason I started photographing them, is that people in Latin America like to decorate their most valuable belongings, especially their cars. These kids don’t have cars yet or can’t afford them, so their most valuable belongings are their bikes.

TMN:

Describe a typical portrait session. When you make portraits, how do you avoid cliché?

José Castrellón:

I just go out in my car and drive on the Panamerican Highway. Especially on the weekends, they all come out. I stop them and explain what I’m doing. Some are interested, some are not—actually, they all get into it! Because first I do Polaroid proofs, and they get to keep some of the proofs. But basically it’s just driving around, and out of the blue I’ll bump into someone—or people I know will tell me they saw [a guy on a bike], and they’ll stop them and ask for a cell-phone number.

TMN:

What are some traits you link to being Panamanian?

José Castrellón:

I have just one: “Island time.” We are not an island, but we have so much island culture and idiosyncrasy.

TMN:

What are you working on now?

José Castrellón:

I am working slowly right now on a series called “Kuna Metals.” Kunas are an indigenous tribe from the Caribbean north shore of Panama that never kneeled to white men. So I am photographing young Kunas that are really into metal music. It’s inspired by working in the Kuna Yala reservation with AECID, a Spanish NGO; attending punk rock shows in my teens; and also James Howe’s book, A People Who Would Not Kneel.