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MacArthur Park's Polaroid photographers: a fading L.A. rite of passage

July 9, 2010 |  3:09 pm

It used to be that going to MacArthur Park and posing in front of the lake for an instant photo was a tradition, a rite of passage. On weekends, the nannies, cooks, seamstresses and construction workers descended from crowded apartment buildings.

"That was the first thing they did," says photographer Efren Castellanos. "They came to Los Angeles, they came to the park, they took their photograph."

On some days, up to half a dozen men with cameras slung over their shoulders eagerly competed to do the job.

It was the 1980s, and as immigrants from Central America and Mexico poured into the Pico-Union district by the thousands, the giant park at its center became the bustling heart of the community.

Photographers proudly displayed their portfolios — ragged sheets of Polaroid images patched together with clear duct tape. Face after face looked out from the collage, some tall and proud, some stiff and bashful, some dressed in their U.S.A. best, some clad in work uniforms — always with the same view of the park in the background.

Rarely did they smile as the camera clicked. But within the classic white frame of the Polaroids, everything about their new life in Los Angeles seemed idyllic: the scores of pigeons, the dancing fountain, the buildings reaching for the sky.

Now three photographers are left. Their film of choice is no longer made. And sometimes a whole day goes by without a customer.

Click here to read more about MacArthur Park's Polaroid photographers.

-- Esmeralda Bermudez

Photo: Javier Prado sits in his folding chair waiting for customers at MacArthur Park. Photographers such as Prado, with their old-fashioned Polaroid cameras, have been fixtures in the area for nearly 40 years.

Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times