Sofía Verzbolovskis

@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro

August’s featured photographer is Sofía Verzbolovskis

Sofía Verzbolovskis is Panamanian photographer, who currently lives in New York. After receiving her degree from NYU in 2009, she was accepted onto a photojournalism course at the International Centre of Photography (2010-2011). Her photographs have been published in the Huffington Post, Musée Magazine, Jocks and Nerds, La Prensa among others publications. Her first individual exhibition took place in September 2012, entitled Diablos Rojos: Fin de una era (Diablos Rojos: End of an era), at the Latin American Workshop in New York. In June 2013, this series travelled to gallery Allegro in Panama, under the title Cementerio de Diablos (Cemetery of the Diablos). Her photographs taken with an iPhone have been exhibited in Australia at the Head On Photo Festival, Spain, and in the United States in galleries in California, Vermont and at the Photographic Centre in Woodstock, New York. Sofia was selected for the Biennial of Visual Arts of the Central American Isthmus (BAVIC 9) for her series on the city of Colón, which took place in Guatemala, August 2014. This series Tacita de Oro, was later exhibited at the Cultural Centre of Spain and the Alianza Francesa in Panama, last October in 2015.

Tacita de Oro

Tacita de Oro is a photographic portrait of Colón city, located on Panama’s Caribbean coast. Colón is laid out in a grid pattern, filled with dense and busy streets. Nowadays, these streets are in an evident state of decay. Many of its inhabitants have abandoned this space. Even though only traces of eclectic architecture remain, facades are still stamped with the memory of a city known at its peak as the Tacita de Oro – a city which reflected its wealth and a rich mixture of Panamanian culture through its architecture, parks, avenues and superb hotels, theatres, bakeries, colours and more.

Although I never knew the era of Tacita de Oro, my daily walks in this city have given me clues as to what it once was.

@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
@Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro
©Sofía Verzbolovskis from the series, La Tacita de Oro

Interview with Sofía Verzbolovskis

Foto Féminas: How did you discover photography?

Sofía Verzbolovskis: I’d say that my photographic trajectory began after I finished university at NYU, here in New York. After graduating I decided take a sabbatical year and went to work in Ghana. I then went to Paris where I started to take courses at Parsons, which I think, no longer exists. I started taking courses in photography there, becoming particularly interested in street photography. I documented everything I saw, every day; I’d always been interested in art and photography but I’d never focused myself as much as I did that year. I began building up my portfolio and decided to apply for ICP, a photojournalism program, running from 2010-2011. Basically, my photographic trajectory has been fairly short because I only started to truly focus on photography in 2010. The year I took the course in photojournalism at ICP was incredible; I learnt so much about things that were new to me, for example, Photoshop, the dark room, things that I honestly hadn’t previously focused on. I learnt so much from the teachers and as time went on I realised what kind of photographic style I had. When I finished I continued exploring my style, which I’m still doing, but I think that I, more or less, have really known what I wanted to focus on since I started at ICP.

FF: How did Tacita de Oro come about?

SV: Tacita de Oro came about when I started taking photos in 2013; this was the origin of many things to come. I started to become interested in photographing Panama and specifically, before that I had started taking photos of buses called Los Diablos Rojos (The Red Devils), which were the main form of transport there, and had been for more than thirty years. However they were more than just forms of transport, they were works of art. For me they were like moving galleries, travelling all over Panama City. I think I started to focus on this because Panama is about to go through a very interesting transformation. It’s developing constantly, modernizing itself with a metro, with buildings, which as you can imagine, is turning into something that looks a little like Miami.

However because Panama is going through this process of change, some of the traditions, characteristics and culture specific to Panama are being lost so I started to focus on these aspects, how it was and how it’s changing during this process of transformation. For example, I photographed Los Diablos Rojos that are no longer in circulation, shooting them in the scrap yard where they were waiting to be cremated or destroyed. This is basically what La Tacita de Oro is more or less about, photographing this space while it was going through an important change. It was ‘The City’ where everyone went to for parties, to go shopping; it was the most prosperous city in Panama at the time and now it’s completely dilapidated. However, it’s in a process of renovation, which scares me a little as I’m afraid they are going to destroy all the architecture that’s unique to this city and are going to convert it into something completely boring, completely ‘normal’ for want of a better word. Therefore, this was the starting point for my project.

While living in New York I met a lot of Coloneses, which make up much of the Panamanian community there. I started to meet them and talk to them about their experiences in Colón, their memories of it and how much has changed. This interested me so I went in there in 2013. When I first arrived I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I simply wanted to get to know the city and walk around it. I fell in love with this incredible place and I think about it at that time of prosperity. The more I explored it, I realised how beautiful it was, which many people don’t notice because it’s in a state of decay, basically in ruins, but I think that through the camera lens and my imagination I could envision how it was before, more than 40 years ago. It was an extremely interesting, cultural city, rich in architecture, culture, colours, interesting facades, theatres and cinemas, everything you could imagine. Now I think that this no longer exists but through my photos I’m trying to capture these things, which maybe is a little bit nostalgic. Through my work I have tried to bring out its splendour, imagine what Colón used to be like and try and conserve some of the city’s characteristics, which are going to change. I intend to make this work in order to represent the memory of what Colón was, and is becoming. I’m still going there, after all these years, visiting it three or four times a year when I’m in Panama.

FF: Is your project still on going?

SV: Yes, at the moment Colón is undergoing a process of renovation, they don’t have a clear plan of what they want to do with the city. This is worrying as there are a lot of very important historic buildings at risk. The city is fairly eclectic in terms of architecture, which is a mixture of colonial styles. They know the city is in ruins but I would like to think they would try to conserve this style in some way because it would be such a shame to destroy everything. So as a result of this I have been very involved with the community. I put on a charitable auction in December last year with an organization that helps children in the Colón community, which was really great. It was the first time that they had done something like this in the city where the people could see the city through the photos, to see its reflection, to see what’s happening there. It was very interesting to see people’s reactions to the photos. I also showed the photos in New York and for some of the people here it was a bit of a shock. Their reaction was a little like “this can’t be the same city I was born in.”

FF: Has the city deteriorated quickly? 

SV: The city is an enigma because it’s surrounded by one of the most important ports on the Canal, where the free zone is located, just before entering the city. There’s a terminal for international cruises that arrive there but it’s interesting because the cruises arrive in the smallest section and people stay there and don’t leave the city. I do understand this because leaving the city is, or was, fairly dangerous. My brother worked in the free zone and saw that for most people who came there, this was their final destination; they didn’t go off and explore, they didn’t go to Colón which is understandable because their idea of it is ‘to get in and get out’ if it’s dangerous and dilapidated. But if you do go and explore the city you will see that it’s beautiful, interesting and different to all of the commercial cities in Panama. The streets are almost like a grid like New York but it’s not very well organized and planned. I don’t know…it’s just a really interesting city and because of this I have continued going and hope to document its transformation.

FF: Will you make other projects in Panama on similar themes? Will you continue with the Tacita De Oro project?

SV: Yes I will definitely continue with La Tacita de Oro. Right now I’m working on a project with the ambassador of France and the French ambassador in Panama. This project documents the French influence in Panama, as they came to construct the canal but didn’t finish it. Since then there has been an influence from the French and the French Antilles in Panama and the idea is to document those influences on its architecture, food and people and the effect of the new French visitors who are continuing to arrive in Panama who are opening up restaurants, opening up everything. So on this note I’m going to Panama in two weeks to continue documenting this.

FF: Could you tell us a little about Pritty Magazine?

SV: Yes, Pritty is a result of a collaboration with an American writer. I take the majority of the photos for the magazine with my phone as I always have it with me, therefore they’re spontaneous. When I was taking photos I had no idea that they were going to become part of a magazine. It was later that I realised that I had a lot work that could say something about Panama, and not only the city but also the provinces outside of it. The writer responded to the photos she saw, therefore it’s a collaboration from the point of views of a Panamanian and a foreigner who’s visited Panama. We made the magazine with Blurb and are now selling it in Panama’s gallery Diablo Rosso and in New York. I think its like an alternative guide, the idea is that people see the magazine, flip through it and this drives their curiosity to discover other places in Panama through the photos and the text and to ask themselves ‘what is this?’ It’s not a guide that tells you where to go or ‘look out for this restaurant’, instead it’s something that encourages you to explore and see things for yourself…

FF: To finish, would you like to add anything else?

SV: Some of the work that I’m making, relating to concepts around Panama, has influenced my work here in New York. I’m currently exploring a place called Minster Avenue in Queens, which can be seen from line 7 on the Metro. It’s really interesting because you see the variety of cultures. You have Ecuador, Columbia, India, Pakistan and end with the Chinese community. I’m trying to document this, the life below line 7. I think in this sense my photography basically involves walking around, exploring other cultures and trying to conserve a little of what they are about, which is what I intend to show in my photos.

To see more of Sofia´s projects, here.


La fotógrafa del mes de Agosto es Sofía Verzbolovskis

Fotógrafa panameña, actualmente en Nueva York. Después de obtener su licenciatura en NYU en el 2009, fue aceptada en el programa de foto- periodismo en el International Center of Photography (2010-2011). Sus fotos han sido publicadas en Huffington Post, Musée Magazine, Jocks and Nerds, La Prensa, entre otras publicaciones. Tuvo su primera exhibición individual en septiembre del 2012, titulada Diablos Rojos: Fin de una era en el Taller Latino Americano en Nueva York. En junio del 2013, esta serie viajó a la galería, Allegro, en Panamá, con el título, Cementerio de Diablos. Sus fotos tomadas con iPhone han sido exhibidas en Australia en el Head On Photo Festival, España, y en los Estados Unidos en galerías en California, Vermont y el Centro de Fotografía en Woodstock, NY. Sofía fue seleccionada para La Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (BAVIC 9) por su serie sobre la ciudad de Colón, el cual tuvo lugar en agosto 2014 en Guatemala. Esta serie, ‘La Tacita de Oro’ luego viajó al El Centro Cultural de España y la Alianza Francesa en Panamá, esta última en Octubre 2015.

Tacita de Oro

La Tacita de Oro es un retrato fotográfico de la ciudad de Colón, ubicada en la costa caribeña de Panamá. Colón es una cuadrícula de calles densas y bulliciosas. Hoy en día, estas se encuentran en evidente estado de desidia; tanto sus habitantes como las autoridades han dejado este espacio al abandono. Aunque hoy sólo quedan rastros de su arquitectura ecléctica, también queda impresa en sus fachadas la memoria de una ciudad que en su apogeo era conocida como La Tacita de Oro— una ciudad que reflejaba la riqueza y mezcla de la cultura panameña a través de su arquitectura, sus parques y avenidas sublimes, hoteles, teatros, panaderías, colores y más.

Aunque nunca llegué a conocer La Tacita de Oro, mis caminatas diarias en esta ciudad me han brindado pistas de lo que una vez fue.

Entrevista con Sofía Verzbolovskis

Para saber más sobre la obra de Sofía, aquí.