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Reflections of a Photojournalist

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, June 18, 2007, at 08:44AM
Reflection Ed Fuentes

A recent Downtown concert saw photographers in the media pool shooting at a furious clip, some cramming the front like groupies. From the side of the stage, another photographer walked with a relaxed stride, eyes focused on the crowd. He glanced at the others shooting as he kicked in his strobes. He lifted his camera and took a shot. One adjustment was made, and he waited for dramatic arc in the band's set. It came, he shot twice, then moved to a different spot and waited some more. There was no wasted motion from photographer Gary Leonard.

Gary, now 56, connected to the camera early. He was already shooting at 8 years old and recalls being on the field of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the 1959 Dodger Photo Day. "On the way home, I was looking at my camera," he said later, "and I remember thinking 'there is something more here'."

As a photojournalist (for a wide list of publications including the Downtown News), Gary has seen the development of Bunker Hill, the music scene, sports figures, politicians, skid row before the lofts moved in, celebrities and just people.

His portraits have a punk rock rhythm mixed with a Diane Arbus twist of moment, found with on-the-spot timing of Arthur "Weegee" Felling -- both are among the photographers that Gary regards as an influence. When you see his three books, Symphony in Steel that chronicles the building of Disney Hall, Take my Picture Gary Leonard with street photography of people, and Make the Music Go Bang that covers L.A.'s early punk scene, you know he is L.A.s photographer -- the shooter of a city, as he says, that keeps changing.

When Master American urban street photographer Garry Winogrand passed away in 1984, more than 2,500 rolls of undeveloped black and white film were left behind. It was work not seen by himself much less the public. That's when Gary made a promise to himself to someday have his work out of hiding. He wanted it to be in the right place, somewhere it could be shared with the public, in a place that wasn't just a gallery.

The right time and the right place just happened. When you walk into The Gary Leonard Studio (740 S Olive St) you can see tables with small boxes holding photos protected by a sleeve priced between $20 to $100. You can flip through LA's cultural history; Exene Cervenka, Steve Garvey, Darby Crash and Disney Hall Grand Opening share space with a shot of the Arts District (back when Leonard knew it as Al's Bar District) and Japanese tourists at Olvera Street. Sifting through photos recreates the experience of flipping through albums at a record store. It's an intentional twist intended to promote that feeling of discovery, where your mood can shift with each image that appears. It's all a personal outlet for him.

In an alcove of "The Outlet" are prints by photographers Julius Shulman and Max Yavno that continue to inspire Gary. "Soon, maybe, I can shoot less and spend more time in here," where he and friends can reflect and trigger memories.

There's one inspirational piece that's not a photograph. A small sculpture made by Gary's father who passed away just over a year ago. He pauses and says quietly, "I still get shivers when I see it." It's in the window, exhibited for the first time for a public that walks by, as native son Gary Leonard drives his "anti-gallery" ahead.

The Gary Leonard Studio is at 740 S Olive St. and is open during the Downtown Art Walk. Appointments can also be made by calling 213-304-4279 or emailing echobark @



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