Politicians, pregnant moms, homeless, youngsters, police officers, artists — the many faces of Los Angeles are on display at a new photographic exhibition at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels that reveals the “angelic” side of Angelenos.
Showcasing 32 photographic prints in two cathedral alcoves, “City of Angels: Portraits” is a collaboration between artist Colette Miller and photographer Gary Leonard. The exhibition will be up until mid-August.
On paper, the concept for the exhibition seems like an overly simple idea — photograph people in front of a giant pair of glossy angel wings — but the individual nuances and subtleness of Leonard’s portraits makes for a fascinating glimpse of humanity embracing their “angel side” with reflected joy, solemnity, humor and pride.
Angels are everywhere and everyone, contends Miller, who is gaining a worldwide reputation for her Global Angel Wings Project that began in Los Angeles in 2012. She’s designed and created wings in a variety of locations (brick walls, courtyards, etc.) around the world, including Kenya, Australia and Mexico, as well as New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C. About two thirds of her angel wings are still intact having escaped damage, she says.
In 2012, Miller painted a pair of iridescent wings on a roll-down gate in downtown Los Angeles (not far from the cathedral on Main Street) to not just serve as a fun backdrop for photos, but as a “mediation on the humanity and angelic in ourselves. That we are angels on this Earth and always have the power to choose to do the right thing.”
Known for his candid photojournalistic portraits of Los Angeles, from rough street life to high-gloss celebrities and politicians, Leonard was excited and inspired by the wings. He had been searching for just the perfect singular location that would serve as the framework of commonality for his Angeleno subjects.
“The wings are a perfect symbol of the city,” says Leonard about the mural, located in front of a former pawnshop. “I was looking for that thing, that thing that united us. This was it.”
Leonard put the call out via email to the cross-section of Angelenos he’s met over the years, encouraging them to show up at the wings for impromptu photo shoots. Some came with their dog, baby, book and even a harp.
Three former mayors arrived; former mayor Richard Riordan even brought along grade school students from Frederick Douglass Academy. Leonard also captured Downtown L.A. developer Tom Gilmore with his father Raymond Gilmore, a touching moment between generations.
Subjects jumped, grinned and shined, all radiating seraphic goodwill and elation. “Wearing” the wings brought out the best in the subjects, contend Miller and Leonard.
In addition to photographing his contacts, Leonard also snapped portraits of community folk (street cleaners, police officers, etc.) who happened to be near the wings and were intrigued.
All in all, Leonard photographed more than 300 Angelenos.
The first showing of Leonard’s angel-winged collection was presented last year at the Fine Arts Building in Downtown Los Angeles. Some of the angel portraits became part of “Community of Angels” at the Metro Red Line Vermont/Beverly Blvd. station.
“This project succeeded beyond what I hoped it would have done,” summed up Leonard.
“People are bombarded daily with advertising and messaging,” says Miller. “I put the wings in surprising places to remind us to never stop looking for angels in our midst — and that we can be those angels to others.”
More information about Miller’s Global Angel Wings Project is at ColletteMiller.com/AngelWings.