This week we have a really great photo of
four movers and shakers of the Panama Canal. This is the first
photo I have seen with Ernest "Red" Hallen in the
photo. All the old Panama Canal photos with the black
boarder on the bottom with a description were photos that Ernest
"Red" Hallen took.
Like most photographers, Ernest ďRedĒ Hallen seldom was in front of the
camera. In this rare
photograph, taken September 13, 1927, he is seen, at the far left in
At first I thought the order of names was L-R until I did some
research on the other men. The others in the group and their titles at that time are:
L-R Ernest "Red" Hallen, Official Photographer, John.G
Claybourn, Superintendent of Dredging Division; C.M. Butters,
Assistant Engineer; and R.E. Snediker, Captain of Grader. The
person who wrote the description in the black boarder should have
put Hallen's name first. There will be more about the other
men in the future..
1907, Hallen was appointed the official photographer by the Isthmian
Canal Commission (ICC), the American administration body overseeing
the Canal. He produced more than 16,000 images during his 30-year
career. The ICC wanted a systematic documentation of the work in
Panama, however Hallenís images are more than mere documents.
Until his retirement in 1937, Hallenís views were the primary
means by which Americans and the world experienced the great
engineering feat and documented one of the United State's greatest engineering
accomplishments. These step by step captures in
time by his camera tell a magnificent story.
of the Culebra Cut (or Gaillard Cut) comprise the bulk of Hallenís
work. Engineers and workers carved out a valley through the Continental
Divide ridge linking Gatun Lake and the Bay of Panama, and
the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In addition to the Culebra Cut,
there are also photographs of the construction of the Gatun,
Miraflores, and Pedro Miguel locks, which raise and lower ships
between the main elevation of the Canal and sea level. Photographs
of the tugboat Gatun, the first to traverse the Gatun
locks on September 26, 1913, demonstrate the excitement surrounding
the complex project.
Hallen did more than document the
engineering and construction of the Canal. He also photographed
changes taking place in Panama City during this time. Notable
examples are two photographs of North Avenue, before and after
paving in 1907. He turned his camera to ruins of Old Panama, the
first European settlement on the Pacific, founded in 1519, and to
Taboga Island, which housed the ICCís hospital and clubhouse.
the film era and way before the digital era, photographic emulsions
were made on glass supports, known as glass plate negatives. I
spent hours in the basement of the Administration Building
in Balboa going through the Hallen glass plate negatives that were
stored there in filing cabinets. My interest in the negatives
during those days was to find potential areas to dig antique bottles
and relics from the Canal Construction Days by studying where houses
were. I would write down the number of the glass negative and
take the list to the Graphics Branch in the same basement to order
prints. These glass plate negatives were all 8 x 10 inch in
size. Because the glass plate negative was this large
(compared to a 35mm negative) the 8 x 10 inch negative produced a
very detailed and sharp image. I can take one of Hallen's
detailed photos today and scan it at 1200 dpi, I can zoom in and
study in detail what is going on in the photo capture.
thought just came to me. How did Hallen carry the plate
negatives when he would climb into or onto very remote and rough
areas. He had to be very careful not to break the glass or
expose the chemical on the glass negative while taking the glass
negative in and out of the camera. He was indeed a remarkable
man and historically significant in the history of the American
Canal Construction and post construction.
was awarded the Roosevelt Medal with two bars. Medal #3074, Bar
1 #1884, Bar 2 #1299. His wife was Maude Hallen and they had two daughters. Hallen was born
in 1875 and died in 1947. Arrived in Panama in 1907.