Gary Leonard

 
 

During the past thirty years Gary Leonard has photographed the streets and neighborhoods of Los Angeles recording the famous and not so famous as they navigate the currents of life in Southern California. Professionally Leonard makes his living as a photojournalist. He would be the first to tell you that his career would have little meaning were it not the most efficient and practical method for accommodating his artistic passion to engage and interpret the world around him through photography.


As a young man, Leonard began to understand the power of the photograph and its ability to alter the viewer’s perception of time. At Birmingham High School in 1969, Leonard was photographed in two locations of one panoramic class portrait. Leonard’s act can be laughed off as a curious teenage prank but in light of his lengthy career in photography one must acknowledge his understanding of the photographer’s role in society as both a witness and a transformer.  Leonard knew his act of transgression would be remembered and smiled upon as long as the photograph exists.


In 1972, after graduating from UCLA (where he was a photographer for the school paper The Daily Bruin) Leonard covered the Democratic Convention and the presidential election. The turmoil of politics gave Leonard his first taste of professional journalism. Between 1975 and 1979 Leonard worked in the building products industry, concurrently continuing his involvement with photography.  Photographing Los Angeles daily helped Leonard define his vision of photography as a way to capture the history of the city.


The rise of punk rock music in Los Angeles pushed Leonard away from the confines of a 9 to 5 job. In this grassroots music scene, Leonard found a percolating new cultural development that paralleled the earlier Central Avenue Jazz explosion of the 1930’s & 1940’s. He determined to record it. Between 1975 and 1986 Leonard began photographing clubs and musicians, as documented in his book Make the Music Go Bang. At the same time, Leonard returned to freelance photojournalism, working for the LA Weekly, the LA Reader and other publicationsDuring this time,  he was a photographer for the Hollywood Revitalization Project and was acknowledged  at City Hall by Mayor Bradley for his architectural  photography. Leonard’s images began to appear in Rollingstone,  Interview Magazine, People Magazine, Der Speigel, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and numerous books.


By 1986, Leonard returned to a broader range of people and places.  Tired of shooting Los Angeles by night, he now chose to capture daytime lives and events.  In the early 1990s, publisher James Vowell  offered Leonard a weekly column at the Los Angeles Reader, “Take my Picture Gary Leonard.” This column provided Leonard with an opportunity to share his vision of unusual or overlooked facets of Los Angeles on a weekly basis.  In 1998 Take My Picture Gary Leonard became a book. The column continued through a string of merging and then folding independent papers. Today the column can be found on this website. 


Beginning in 1993,  Leonard refocused on architecture. He spent 11 years documenting the construction of Disney Hall from the first ground breaking to the ribbon cutting. This project culminated in his book, Symphony in Steel, which was published in 2003 to coincide with the opening of the concert hall.


Since 2000 Leonard has been selected twice by the LAPL to photograph neighborhoods, first Echo Park and then Encino and to document Los Angeles Industries. For the MTA he has photographed all the transit lines from the gold to the orange line. He has fully photographed (from ground breaking to completion) the construction of the environmentally  green Cal-Trans building designed by Thom Maine. Other recent projects include the Cornfield from planting to plowing and a season in the dugout with the Dodgers.


In addition to Leonard’s non-stop shooting schedule, he shares his photography knowledge in classrooms, at skid row shelters and in judging young photographers. The history department at the Downtown Central Library houses a large collection of Leonard’s work and he continues to provide them with new images on a regular basis.


Like Leonard’s double appearance in his class photo, Leonard gives the impression of being in all places at all times. Whether it’s Nisei Week, Mexican Independence Day, Mardi Gras or Chinese New Year, he is certain to be present.  Gary Leonard’s photography, with its unique and comprehensive grasp of the flamboyant,  ironic,  absurd, beautiful and poignant in the life of Los Angeles,  memorializes what otherwise would be lost. By capturing the diversity of culture, economics and neighborhoods, Leonard provides a signpost for our time and for the future, an important Los Angeles archive.