The Casa Museo Carlos Endara is not only a living homage to one of history’s biggest photographers, but also a beautiful example of how to travel to the past, without moving an inch from the present.
All of us have dreamt, at least once, of traveling back in time. We feel an irresistible curiosity about the future, its fantastic possibilities and advancements; yet many of us also wish to make a huge leap into the past, if only to experience all the secret essences and experiences of that which is no more. Not long ago, we discovered an incredible way to do so and would love to share it with you. We managed to travel back in time without abandoning the present and, even better, without even leaving Panama’s Casco Viejo.
Carlos Endara is the greatest photographer in Panama’s history, even though he was not born here. He came here since he was very young from Ecuador, attracted by the fever that the construction of the French Canal had generated, the first attempt ever in creating an inter-oceanic way between the Atlantic and Pacific. Just imagine. Young Endara arriving in the year 1886 right into a Panama that was agitated by great activity. Everything promised prosperity in the Panamanian capital, a city that was transforming leaps and bounds ahead. Young Endara had studied drawing and painting in Quito and, upon arriving in Panama city he found himself in the midst of a bustling and changing city. He could have hardly imagined that with time, he would be the key visual register, by compiling the multiple urban transformations expressed in the people, the scenery and even the buildings themselves.
Reception of Carlos Endara’s first studio. In the photo Victoriano Endara, brother and partner of Carlos.
Throughout five years, between 1899 and 1904, Carlos Endara traveled to Paris, to dedicate himself to formal photography studies. After he returned to Panama, he established a photographic studio that opened in 1910. Inside lived a wold full of creativity and fantasy that offered quite a particular experience for any who posed for a portrait. As a product of his trip, Endara had brought several hand-painted fabric backgrounds with pastoral and exotic motifs, with plants, flowers and even pictures of the ocean.
However, the busy photographer did not dedicate his time to registering exclusively the elite and most powerful members of Panamanian society. He would also create portraits of members of other socioeconomic levels, like mixed families of various ethnicities. Adding to this, he would go out onto the streets every day, becoming a true hunter of day-to-day life images. Through his lens all kinds of people passed, a clear attempt to register the rich human diversity that roamed the city. Endara dedicated himself to translate into vivid images, the most intense aspects of the city, people as much as buildings or public areas, private home interiors and monuments alike.
He also specialized in group photography. In them, Endara managed to reflect the vibrant energy of the generation that founded the Panamanian Republic. His images included groups of doctors and engineers; civil workers and nurses; students and firemen; policemen and businessmen; officials, professors and members of sports, religious and social groups.
Carlos Endara S.M. Beatriz Luthas de Limchin, first Carnival Queen of the Chinese-Panamanian colony, 1925. / Courtesy: Endara House Museum Collection.
Inevitably, the years passed and our dear Casco Viejo fell into a long abandonment period, that we have fortunately left behind. But during the most ruinous phase, Mario Lewis, passionate about Panamanian photography, discovered the existence of the original house of Carlo Endara where the photographer’s negatives lay hidden. The first time he went into the abandoned house, Mario Lewis was astonished: “I felt, proportionately at least, what British archeologist Howard Carter must have felt when he discovered Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 at the Valley of Kings. My memory flourished with images of the characters that were linked to our patriotic history and ancestors that eight decades ago would have been in this same place, posing for Carlos Endara.”
Restored study of Carlos Endara. In the foreground, the great Century camera, used by the photographer.
Today, the Casa Museo Endara, is not only a center to preserve and expose to the public the works of the legendary photographer, but also a marvelous example of the restoration of the homes from that time period at Casco Viejo. When you visit it, you will be able to travel into the past, feeling the spaces and objects from the past in the flesh; and you will experience even if for a brief moment, another way to look at the world; another way to live.