Museum of Fine Arts exhibits photographs by Ernest “Red” Hallen


Ernest “Red” Hallen (American, 1875-1947)
Operation of Gatun Locks. S.S. Allianca leaving upper-west chamber and entering Gatun Lake (June 8, 1914).
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Dr. Robert L. and Chitranee Drapkin from The Ludmila Dandrew and Chitranee Drapkin Collection














In celebration of the centennial of the Panama Canal, the Museum of Fine Arts commemorates the milestone with an exhibit of 50 photographs by Ernest “Red” Hallen. The exhibit, located on the second-floor in the Works on Paper Gallery, reveals a story of far-reaching economic and political implications of the building of the canal from 1904 to 1915. Curated by curatorial assistant, Sabrina Hughes, who received her MA in art history from University of South Florida, Tampa, the exhibit shows the dramatic changes to the area during its construction.

The original canal was conceived in 1880 and begun by France, with the idea to create a trading route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, speeding up the transportation. However, financial troubles and diseases halted the initiative. After Panama received its independence in 1903, it negotiated with the United States for construction and the canal was completed on Aug. 15, 1914. The U.S. managed the waterway until 1999 and the round-the-clock trade route is now managed by the country of Panama.

In 1907, Hallen, at 32, was appointed the official photographer by the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC), the American administrative body overseeing the canal. He went on to produce more than 16,000 images during his 30-year career. Until his retirement in 1937, his photographs were the primary means by which Americans and the world experienced this engineering feat.

On display are 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, and celebrating spectators, demonstrate the excitement surrounding this moment. The rushing water in images of the Gatun Spillway Dam conveys the monumental human attempt to corral the forces of nature.


Building the Panama Canal—Photographs by Ernest Hallen, will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg through Sunday, November 9, 2014. For more information, visit or call 727.896.2667.