Reynaldo Rivera was born in Mexico but spent his childhood traveling across the border and within the United States—mostly between San Diego de la Unión, Mexico; Los Angeles; and Stockton, California—before settling as a young adult in East L.A. Rivera’s large (and largely unseen) body of photographic work captures the city’s queer clubs and house party scene in the 1980s and 1990s. These images depict a version of Los Angeles that has all but disappeared: Echo Park as a predominantly Latinx neighborhood rife with artists, writers, and performers full of flair and queer glamour.
La Plaza is one of the oldest running gay bars in Los Angeles. Charmed by La Plaza’s atmosphere and its two-for-one margaritas, he was a habitué of the club for years, all the while documenting its culture and those of other underground drag bars throughout the city’s Eastside in photographs from 1989 to the start of the new millennium. Little seen or exhibited since their making, his artful and accomplished black-and-white images conjure a shimmering, emotive world of performance and communion achieved against a backdrop of modest means.
For Made in L.A. 2020, Rivera shared a selection from this archive, including intimate photographs from clubs (front of stage and back), bars, and house parties. A vital aspect of his ongoing project is remembering and lending visibility to a community of vibrant trans women and drag performers who often died tragically and young. His images of people who are missing from public ledgers and administrative records offer a reminder that L.A. is a place with a deep history and a short memory.