Memories of a 1-Hour Photo Studio

Story Description in 240 characters
Andy Cheng migrated from Taiwan to New York hoping to work in the photo film industry, but he never imagined that his love for photography would develop into a life of learning about unknown rituals, strange languages and bachata.

Story Description in 250 Words
Andy Chen runs Best Color, one of the remaining 1-hour photo studios in New York City. With digital photography now being the standard, he knows his business develops its last rolls of film after a 26-year run at 4509 5th Avenue, in Brooklyn.
A Bloomberg report on Census data found last year that there were only 190 one-hour photo shops in 2013, down from 3,066 in 1998.
He is also facing the wave of gentrification that are pushing out the old staples that held together neighborhoods. Yet, he’s not bitter about it. His is more melancholy than anything else.
Because when he closes his Sunset Park shop in May, he will leave behind almost three decades of documenting faces and rituals of this Latino enclave.
“Everything changes,” he says with a smile.
Everything, including him.
Just as Chen, 56, saw this neighborhood go from Puerto Rican to Dominican and then to Mexican, he learned the traditions of these once unknown communities, and even learned their language and how to dance bachata.
“¡Increíble!,” he exclaims in Spanish before bursting into laughter.
For this Taiwanese immigrant, his job became his life; his customers became his friends; his friends became his family. All arranged in a composition that soon will become a memory, just like the photographs that made him.

Head: Memories of a 1-hour photo studio
Sub: Immigrant owner enjoys the last days of his 26-year run snapping photos in Sunset Park.
There Are Only 190 One-Hour Photo Shops Left in the United States

Developers Compete to Shape the Future of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park
What I Learned Processing 164 Rolls of Film After Waiting a Year

What I Learned Processing 164 Rolls of Film After Waiting a Year

Word by Word Transcript
Over here is a Spanish community.

So they love the picture.

You know that’s why i still survive here.

Before it was like they take a picture–I ask them, “why you take a lot of picture?”

“Oh, this for my mom” “Oh they come from Mexico, they come from Ecuador, they come from Guatemala.”

So they was make a lot of picture.

So now it’s totally different.

Technology is very advanced now, you know digital

They put the picture in a in his computer or now its cellular…

Things change, you know.

Yeah, I been doing this my business already 26 years.

That time was 1-day service. There’s no on-hour service, just a little one-hour service.

Before it was dark room like wow!

Very nice, you know. Very good memory.

But now, no more.

Not even no more chemical. Smells different (laughs).


Yeah, I very enjoy this activity, because… they… I catch the moment taking pictures for the history for them.
It’s my responsible to take the very good picture for them, you know.

PRIEST: Puede ir en paz. Demos gracias al señor. ¡Aplauso a los novios y las familias! You can go in peace. Give thanks to the lord. You may go in peace. Applaud bride and groom and their families!

Yeah, I learned Spanish for my business. Yeah, everybody teach me, you know.

So I also learned how they dancing bachata. ¡Increíble!

Over here the rent is very high, you know. If they increase the rent I cannot afford it.

But I’m tired of this. It’s not tired of the picture. I don’t want to print no more.

Because digital… is digital.

When I close I still taking picture outside also.

I still have the schedule for the quinceañera, the boda and then bautizo too.

So that’s why I wanna close also.

They finish the contract in May. Ya finito. Se acabó (laughter).

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About Gustavo Martínez Contreras

was born in Texas, brewed in Mexico City, seasoned in the Mexico-United States border, aged walking the streets of Philadelphia. He had a short-lived stint eating grits, fried chicken, and peaches in Atlanta. He later became a béisbol writer for El Diario de Nueva York. He has written about immigrant communities in English, Spanish, and some Spanglish. Although he does not have a shelf full of awards, Gustavo has received thank you notes and hugs from people who have trusted him with their stories. His work has appeared in Voices of New York, El Diario/La Prensa, Dallas’ Al Día, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Philadelphia Weekly, Radio Bilingüe, Latina Lista,, among others. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
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