When people champion transformations in urban areas, they often words like "renewal" and "revitalization," as rundown buildings get gutted,...
When people champion transformations in urban areas, they often use words like "renewal" and "revitalization," as rundown buildings get gutted, repainted, and reincarnated as sparkly lofts. But what's sometimes ignored is the forced removal of the people who inhabit those rundown (and often historic) spaces. Two years ago, the photographer David Sotelo ventured into downtown Los Angeles's former El Dorado Hotel, which had been home to a great many people and families, but was vacated when the building changed ownership. Sotelo managed—through a combination of luck and urban spelunking—to make many trips to the hotel during the time between the old residents' forced exodus and the building's renovation. Now a set of high-end lofts, the El Dorado that appears in Sotelo's work evokes haunting feelings, as the vacant rooms are littered with things that residents left behind and covered with the imprints of human lives.
"The initial compulsion came from the immediate experience of the interior of the building—feeling the intimacy of the spaces and these people's lives," says Sotelo. "I went back there for at least fifteen times. I would go on a Friday at about three in the morning and climb up into this building with my equipment, as well as power bars and toilet paper and water. I would lie down and wait for the sun to come up, and then I would chase the light around the building all day, photographing obsessively. I was there alone with all of this history. I felt a little bit like some of these archeologist poking around in tombs, except that I could easily read and identify with what I found."