Joanne Leonard’s first solo exhibition in the Bay Area since 1988 presents a selection of photographs that are rare and intimate documents of private and public life in Oakland during the 1960s and 1970s. Leonard moved to West Oakland after completing her undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley in the early 1960s. By that time, the community, which had been populated predominately by black and Mexican war-industry laborers during World War I, had undergone a long history of urban renewal efforts and subsequent years of economic decline, mass displacement, and social neglect.
Amid hard times for her neighborhood, Leonard was active in community-building efforts and meetings, where she developed friendships that allowed her close access to photograph the streets, protests, weddings, and other happenings in her community. The potency of the resulting work unfurls in the attention Leonard pays to minute gestures and objects that give texture to the quotidian experiences she documents.
Viewing these photographs, we linger in the quiet enormity felt through one’s fingertips when combing the hair and temples of a loved one, the warmth of other bodies in proximity while lounging or playing, and the rapture of catching a beat with a friend while dancing in the streets. Bedroom interiors, kitchens, and living rooms reveal the careful arrangement of clutter and treasured possessions. Leonard captures inanimate yet expressive objects through the prism of the camera, instilling in them a sense of longing and the slow movement of time in the lives of their owners.
Born in Los Angeles, Leonard currently lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan.