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The Plaza’s Photographers


Landmarks and photographers are always a good match because there’s always tourists who want their picture taken at a famous spot. Since the late 19th century, photographers have gone from using the old 4×5 to polaroid instant film to printed digital photos. Go to any landmark and you’ll most likely find one wandering around, waiting for a new client to shoot.

The ones in Guatemala’s City main square have been snapping portraits there for over 30 years. They’ve been through the evaporation of film, the rise of digital cameras, and now they face their largest challenge yet: the increasing use of the cellphone camera. “Cellphones have been killing us, even if the photos will never be printed,” comments José Francisco López, one of the photographers in the Central Plaza.

Their workday starts between 9am and 10am. Once they show up at the plaza, they walk around looking for people to shoot. These photographers usually carry around a small photo album with samples to show them to their potential clients. If the person’s interested, the photographer takes the picture for Q.10 (1.36USD), and prints it. They normally shoot between 2 and 5 clients per day during the week. On weekends, that number tends to be much higher.

Though some of these photographers have known each other for a while, they’ve never actually organised as a group. According to Roberto Thomson, one of the photographers in the plaza, it would be kind of pointless. “Here, even if we organised as a group, another twenty photographers we don’t know would show up,” he says.

87-year old Roberto Thomson was a truck driver for over fifty years until he lost his truck while gambling on dice. During his days as a truck driver, he used to travel with a polaroid camera to make money on the side by taking portraits in main squares across Central America. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


Roberto Thompson displays his sample work. He relates that, for a while,  he’d get to the park on a Harley Davidson he’d bought in Texas until he lost it on a dice game as well. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


Roberto Thompson carries a digital printer with him to hand over the photos he’s taken right away. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


45-year old José Francisco López has been a photographer in the park for the past five or six years. On Sundays, he sets up a fiberglass horse for children to hop on and have their photo taken. Reportedly, these horses can cost up to Q.10,000 (1362.94USD). Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


José Francisco López also carries around a small photo album with sample work. His photos usually have backdrops reminicent of chinese paintings, and cityscapes. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


52-year old Jose Portillo has been working as a photographer on the park for the past 30 years. “What I like the most about this craft is that it’s an art form that people can take and use to remember what has been part of their lives,” he explains. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


Jose Portillo reveals photos using the palace as backdrop in his album. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


Hugo Rene Mendoza, 40, chose to pose with the National Palace in the background as it’s one of the most requested backdrops in the plaza. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite


Hugo Rene Mendoza relates that he crossed over into photojournalism for just a day several years ago. Mendoza explains that, when the Queen of Spain was touring Guatemala, he happened to be in the plaza while she was strolling about. He managed to snap a few photos of her before everyone got kicked out of the plaza. He never sold those photos to anyone. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

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