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The ‘World’s Largest Laundromat’, a refuge in the Chicago suburbs



Free coffee and doughnuts: that’s how the World’s Largest Laundromat greets its customers each morning in a working-class, predominantly Hispanic Chicago suburb. Its hundreds of machines and dryers, powered by solar panels on the roof, run 24/7, amid a constant hubbub.

While washing, we chat, we tap on our phones, some watch television or the birds in the aviary. Tables are set up so that the youngest can draw or do their homework. “It’s a neighborhood shelter, where parents let their children run freely in the play area while they do their laundry, describes photographer Darcy Padilla. It is also a meeting place for those who live alone, the elderly or isolated people. Like this man who had just lost a loved one. He could have done his laundry at home but preferred to come to the laundromat in the middle of the afternoon to see people.

For her, this dive into the daily life of the laundromat was an opportunity to collaborate with the journalist Auberi Edler, who for her part produced a documentary film*. “Auberi shared (with me) his fascination with how the different facets of the American dream intertwine in this place,” explains Darcy Padilla, used to exploring the other side of this American dream. In one of her best-known projects, which won several awards, she documented the life of a young HIV-positive woman, Julie Baird, for eighteen years, from their meeting in 1993 until Julie’s death. , in 2010. Evoking, through it, poverty, precariousness, drugs, broken families.

Themes that she continues to explore; she also works on people who have recently lost their homes and on family memory. “Certain projects interest me because of their social dimension, others are close to my heart on a personal level. But above all, I make sure to put in context the stories of all the people who have agreed to be photographed over the years.”

* The Largest Laundromat in the World – Berwyn USA (2022, 90 min), by Auberi Edler, can be seen on the Arte.tv website until October 5.

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