The “red devils” were the main transport system in Panama for over 40 years. They were imposed in 1973 during the military dictatorship of Omar Torrijos, and were imported from United States where they rendered service as school buses. In Panama they were transformed for public service. In those days, an individual permission was given to the transporter who was also the owner of his autobus.
In general, the surname “Red Devil” comes from the lousy service they gave to passengers, with an endless number of complaints from them towards the service and their “levers” (colloquial name for hired drivers) given the high number of accidents and deaths caused by over speed in the competition race drivers had among themselves to lift the largest number of passengers. A number of approximately 1.500 red devils transported daily over 600.000 panamanians.
Since 2008, President Ricardo Martinelli committed himself in his campaign to solve this transport problem. Effectively, since 2010 a new transport system began to be implemented with modern autobuses which at the beginning shared the routes with the “devils”. But it was not until January 2013 that the deadline was effective to take the devils out of circulation and indemnify with US$25.000 each bus owner. The total investment came to 2 million dollars.
Nonetheless, despite this modernization, now days one can occasionally see one devil running through the streets of Panama.
These buses were decorated by urban artists who, through paintings in airbrush decorated the “devils” as if all the metal covering the buses were a very large canvas directed by the bus owner. Religious scenery, actors and actresses, models, relatives, etc., were the favorite themes to illustrate the buses.
This series of photography centered in the back part of the buses, which in some cases given its square form, and because of the way the graphic scene was composed, allows a reflection on painting in popular culture and the “kitsch” element in this specific case.
The series was photographed in 2010 and retaken in 2015 for its final form.