Sandra Eleta is probably Panama’s most famous photographer, an artist whose work gained international renown and was displayed all over the world. With a huge body of work stretching back to the 1960s, it is perhaps surprising to us that Sandra Eleta is most famous for her work documenting the people and culture of our small part of the Costa Arriba.

Portobelo and Sandra Eleta

Eleta focused mostly on the Caribbean township of Portobelo, located 15 minutes from our resort. Her intimate and unique portrayals of the people who made up the town earned worldwide acclaim, travelling all over the United States and Europe in exhibitions to the public. We are lucky to have this record, with photos taken in the late 70s/early 80s showing a Caribbean Panama coastline lost to time. Eleta was stunned by the history of Portobelo and the traditions of its people, becoming dedicated to recording what she saw as one of the most faithful cultural enclaves in Panama.

This included such spectacular events as the Festival de los Congos as well as everyday life. Her work with fishermen and children is perhaps most striking, with beautifully unpretentious photography emphasizing the hard working lives of her subjects. These subtle black and whites radiate with life and a sense of capturing a fleeting moment – something that Eleta was determined to chronicle.

Yet, she was no fair weather friend to Portobelo. In the 1970s Eleta opened up her home to the public and to artists, setting up what was formerly known as the “Portobelo Group”. Her home and ideas still remain open in the heart of Portobelo today with Taller Portobelo (renamed in the 80s) thriving and helping local Panamanian artists to showcase and refine their work. The rich history and beauty of the region serves as both inspiration and example to the students, with the Portobelo National Park just a few meters away and the local culture remaining undiluted.

If you are visiting Bala Beach Resort and wish to see some of Panama’s most revealing, exciting and relevant art, we can heartily recommend the work of Sandra Eleta and those who work with Taller Portobelo.