In the mid-1980s, Gary Leonard was an already established veteran of on-the-spot photojournalism when the L.A. READER gave him a weekly Page 4 feature dubbed: "Take My Picture, Gary Leonard". While the Reader is a relic of bygone times, that catch-phrase has become an "L.A. Insider" phrase that when spoken out loud announces to everyone that not only are you in the presence of one of L.A.'s most prodigious assemblers of visual history, it lets everyone else in the room who is "Inside L.A." know that you are in the club too. It also has the additional benefit of pretty much guaranteeing he does, in fact, take your picture.
My first conversation with Gary was back in the early 1990s. Long a legend even then, his son David introduced me while downtown veteran TK Nagano explained to Gary what I did. For him to start snapping pictures of me on the spot was my first moment of validation as a writer. Over the years he has come through on a variety of assignments for my publication, Coagula Art Journal, but in a life of ten thousand photo assignments, our interactions are but a drop in the bucket of his mammoth legacy.
When I met him I asked him what his favorite subjects for photographs were. He said "Money and Cigarettes". Asked why he replied, "Both will be gone in our lifetimes". No airy-fairy idealist, Gary meant paper money, and the subsequent rise of credit cards and no-smoking ordinances have certainly moved in the direction he foresaw, always one click ahead of the popular mindset. His healthy appearance on his 60th birthday at his gallery retrospective gave one the sense that he very well might outlive rolled tobacco and paper portraits of dead presidents. His buying public was in no mood to wait around for those things to cease to exist to acquire signed photographic prints of the diverse body of work he has amassed, though, and there were strong sales amidst an otherwise weak art market. Full Disclosure: I paid full price for an amazing 1972 shot of Richard Nixon and Lenoid Brezhnev in San Clemente. Here is to sixty more, Gary; like so many others, thanks for allowing me to brag "Gary Leonard took my picture!"