In 1977, Gary Leonard was 25, married, living in Sherman Oaks and working odd jobs to subsidize his expensive habit: photography.
At the time, the entrenched Los Angeles music scene consisted of rock radio stations KMET and KLOS, record stores Licorice Pizza, Music Plus and Tower Records as well as venues The Roxy, Whiskey-A-Go-Go and, for bigger shows, the Forum.
“There was an establishment,” Leonard said. “Music, which can’t be limited like that, had no outlet. So it created its own outlet, its own publications, its own record stores. It was absolutely an alternative industry, and the establishment had no clue.”
Leonard was hooked.
Taking cues from a friend who introduced him to the Starwood Club in West Hollywood and another friend who would play upstart station KROQ on his darkroom’s radio, Leonard could feel there was something “really important, really historic and really pure” going on, he said. He sold his home in 1979 and dove into the punk scene, which on the Westside meant chronicling gigs at Club 88 and the Music Machine.
Then, in a bizarre twist, the establishment helped Leonard. Idiosyncratic entertainment reporter Rona Barrett, who taped a West Coast segment for Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow Show,” would have Leonard and Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski on as guests.
The exposure helped cement Leonard’s reputation and got him introduced in 1981 to the after-party venue Zero/Zero Club (which opened at 2 a.m. and would run until the beer ran out), with the venue exhibiting his photos and tipping Leonard off to shows.
“For me it’s always been about documenting Los Angeles, and that’s kind of an offshoot of that body of work,” Leonard said of capturing the L.A. punk scene.
Inevitably, the scene began to change, and so did Leonard’s direction. At 63, Leonard is staff photographer for the Los Angeles Downtown News, which, along with LAObserved.com, continues to publish his “Take My Picture, Gary Leonard” series that had been a staple of the late weekly newspapers Los Angeles Reader and Los Angeles CityBeat.
“I like doing the unexpected, that’s why I related to punk rock. There was a philosophy of you could go anywhere, you could do anything,” Leonard said. “It was a city coming alive. … I didn’t mind being called a punk myself.”