DOWNEY – What does the City of Downey have in common with New York and London? All three cities have locations featured in Levi’s online promotional campaign for its Commuter line of clothing designed for the growing popularity of cycling in dense urban areas. Why is Downey featured over cities like Santa Monica and Pasadena?
Professional photographer, cyclist, and Downey native Gabriel Enamorado was chosen as the artist/cyclist to represent the greater Los Angeles area with online photos and commentary of his favorite places to ride and visit. Enamorado is also a co-founder and the Creative Director of Stay Gallery in Downey, a local art center created with help from the city and the personal labor of himself and scores of others.
Enamorado’s submission, “Bike Rides: Los Angeles,” features Stay Gallery in Downey; the John Ferraro (aka Department of Water and Power) building in downtown LA (“my personal icon for Los Angeles”); and 26th street, Enamorado’s favorite and frequent cycling route between Downey and Los Angeles.
Recognizing the prevalence of people using cellphone cameras to document and share daily events, Levi’s partnered with photo-editing company VSCO and invited riders to submit images and stories of “three places vital to your existence.” The final selections for New York and London, as well as Los Angeles, can be seen on the Commuter/VSCO Journal website.
In an email interview about the selection of Enamorado, Levi’s spokesperson Tripp Gobble says, “Gabe is a fantastic storyteller – there’s a really emotional quality to his landscapes and portraiture…he’s an avid cyclist and was already enthusiastically capturing photos of his bike and his rides.”
It is not surprising that Enamorado was among those chosen to represent the Levi’s brand. In addition to his photography skills, Enamorado is typical of the young urban demographic that is Levi’s target consumer group.
Enamorado relishes urban living, and it is he and others like him who are helping to revive downtown Los Angeles as the complete cultural center which it used to be - with shops, theaters, and a plethora of restaurants. Forty years ago the pull of the suburbs left downtown sidewalks empty at the end of each workday, but the trend has strongly reversed as younger generations seek the excitement, energy, and convenience, of urban living.
Along with this population shift is the growing popularity of the bicycle as a means of commuting to work and social occasions. No longer limited to weekend recreation, urban cycling is almost reaching the level of an extreme sport. People navigate traffic at high speeds on fixed wheel bicycles (requiring considerable practice and skill), and hold events such as a Dark Century – traveling one hundred miles on city streets between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Enamorado is an enthusiast of these unofficial, unstructured rides, and he travels as easily on a bicycle as others travel in a car. When his schedule permits, he cycles the hundred miles to San Diego with friends, and he is an avid participant in what is known as the Wolfpack Marathon Crash – an unsanctioned group ride around the LA Marathon course in the dark hours before the footrace begins.
While he still resides in Downey, Enamorado cycles twenty-four miles round trip several times a week to visit friends in downtown LA. It’s a quiet ride through an industrial part of town on a virtually empty street. His favorite time is early in the morning or after the evening rush hour.
One of the photos that Enamorado shares on the Commuter/VSCO Journal website is a self-portrait of him cycling in front of an old warehouse on an empty stretch of 26th Street. The camera was set up yards away, and it took him several tries and the use of a remote shutter button to get the image that he wanted as he passed in front of a huge loading dock.
As a Warren High School student, Enamorado showed an artistic bent early on. He coupled this interest with developing computer skills, including web design and software coding.
In all of these activities, Enamorado was clearly a self-motivated learner, a “doer.” He painted the senior stage and maintained the school’s website for three years. City Councilman Alex Saab says that he is “not surprised that Gabe was chosen as a finalist” for a project such as Levi’s. Enamorado, he continues, is a “person with tremendous creativity. We’re proud that he’s one of Downey’s own.”
Enamorado’s interest in photography grew during his time at Warren, and became an area of focus when he attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in downtown Los Angeles. His time at FIDM was life-affecting, as he explains through his pictures and commentary on the Commuter/VSCO Journal website.
He used this time to expand technical skills, deepen personal relationships, and explore the broader world that is Los Angeles. He writes, “I fell in love with the people, the stories, and its architecture – old and new.”
It was during these years at FIDM that Enamorado learned about high speed city cycling. He came out of the lab after working late one night and saw a large group of riders barreling south. He was intrigued, bought his first bike in 2008, and eventually became a participant in the events of a cycling group known at the Wolfpack Hustle.
Started in Silverlake nine years ago, the Hustle is known for its high speed group rides where city life provides constantly changing obstacles and challenges – heavy traffic, slowing traffic, unexpected pedestrians, traffic lights (“stale green, fresh red”).
After graduating FIDM, Enamorado worked as a professional freelance photographer for several years, taking stills of dance competitions, weddings, and photo shoots for advertising companies. He was earning a living, but this wasn’t a sufficient outlet for his creativity. In November 2007 he organized a modest showing of his photography at the Epic Lounge on 2nd Street in Downey. The venue was not a dedicated gallery, but the event affirmed the direction that was his goal.
Within two years Enamorado met and teamed professionally with two people who would eventually help him bring an art gallery to life. Valentin Flores is also one of Downey’s own, but he had attended Downey High School, went to school in Berkeley, and was six years older. Joe Manacmul was a classmate and longtime friend of Flores.
Flores and Enamorado met through mutual friends and discovered they had a shared interest in photography and a strong desire to see a center for the arts in their community. Comparing more notes revealed that they had much more in common - Flores also had an exhibition of his work in 2007, but it was at the real estate office of a friend. “We ‘clicked,’” says Enamorado.
With the aid of Manacmul, their first collaboration was a joint showing of their photography in the lobby of the Downey Civic Theatre for one night in February 2010. The event, “Ambivalence,” was a resounding success with 800 people in attendance. Arts advocates in Downey had been lobbying city officials for years that there was a need and a demand for such events. Enamorado, Flores, and Macnamul were encouraged to organize a second show, “Suburban Renaissance,” this time featuring other Downey artists and a variety of media.
Around the same time, other artists and supporters, representing music, theater, and literature as well as the visual arts, formed the Downey Arts Coalition and staged regular monthly art exhibits at a wine bar.
The popular support for these grassroots events ultimately led to the formation of Stay Gallery by Enamorado, Flores, and Manacmul in 2012, with the city underwriting the rent for two years. Volunteers and businesses contributed labor and materials that turned a vacant storefront just north of Firestone Blvd. into an elegant space that has hosted art shows, theatrical performances, poetry readings, music events, and more.
Enamorado’s pictures of Stay Gallery on the Commuter/VSCO Journal website reflect the labor of love and artistic vision that brought the gallery to fruition.
“Stay Gallery has become the essence of who I am as a person,” Enamorado writes, “it has challenged and formed me in ways that nothing else ever has. Today, I am the Creative Director of an organization that has touched the lives of so many within a community that has never had anything like it before, and for that, I am humbled.”
Last June, the city council voted to continue financial support for the gallery for three more years. The vote of confidence brings new challenges for Enamorado as Creative Director, but it is clear that cycling will remain a part of his life no matter how big his workload.
Enamorado’s photo journal entry for the Levi’s Commuter Bike Project is entitled, “Bike Places – Los Angeles.” The website is http://www.commuter.vsco.co/journal. Enamorado’s own personal website can be viewed at http://www.gabrielenamorado.com.
Published: Oct. 9, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 26