A love letter to Fullerton sent from a photo lens

Photo by Christina Moreno

Local photographer Laura Lejuwaan’s photographs of children exude the radiance of life and her pictures of vintage downtown Fullerton flaunt the city’s creativity and aesthetics.

Her exhibit “Fullerton: In Focus,” is currently on display in downtown Fullerton’s Graves Gallery and will run through Feb. 25.

Lejuwaan is a world-renowned photographer due to a portrait she took of Johnny Michael Spann just one month before he was killed. Spann was the first American killed in combat during the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The portrait appeared in Time Magazine, People, US News and World Report, Decision, the Oprah Winfrey Show and on the cover of Parade Magazine.

The portrait of Mike Spann is not on display in Graves, but sixteen portraits of architecture, nature, neighborhoods and community members in Fullerton are. The photographs are for sale and range from $75 to $450.

The theme of the the exhibition is Fullerton, a city Lejuwaan is passionate about.

“It just comes alive in people when they see all these pictures put together,” Lejuwaan said. “They say ‘wow’ and ‘I really like Fullerton.’ And ‘I remember when…’ And all the memories.”

Lejuwaan admits she wasn’t out to spark wow moments in viewers when she commenced to documenting Fullerton back in 2003. She said she felt led to do it and then she just let the project evolve. What resulted, she said, are gifts from God.

A 30-inch by 40-inch portrait titled “Families of Brookdale Place” is one such gift. Lejuwaan invited and inspired the families that live on Fullerton’s historical Brookdale Place to amass for a group portrait. The photograph that emerged qualified as fine art photography. Although Lejuwaan used a digital camera, the photograph looks like it was produced with a high-end 4-by-5 large format camera because the picture is so big, the subjects are sharp in focus, and the composition has high contrast. There is no gray in this photograph, only black areas and white areas, a quality held in high regard by photograph connoisseurs.

“When I look at it I see the people and they are people that I love,” said Julie Byers, who lives on Brookdale Place and is in the photo. “It’s a very sentimental thing in a society that changes way too fast.”

At the opening reception on Feb. 5, Lejuwann said her favorite print is “Angelo’s and Vinci’s” a 20-by-30-inch black and white photograph of Angelo’s and Vinci’s Ristorante on Harbor Boulevard. The print is tan because of photographic print toning. Lejuwaan said she risked her life taking this picture. She snapped the photo while standing in the middle of Harbor Boulevard. She had just a moment to take the picture before cars headed in her direction. A man riding a bike entered the frame when she took the picture. She thought the photo would be unusable but decided the biker’s position in the composition made the photo amazing.

Lejuwaan’s friend from Lakewood, Patti Sechler, said one of two of her favorite photos is “Angelo’s and Vinci’s.”

“I like that someone made this beautiful building and all the details that go into the arches and little sconces and everything,” she said. “And he just adds character – homeless guy just riding by – like what are the chances of that?”

Lejuwaan’s neighbor, Bob Ashlock, said his favorite photograph hangs on the other side of the gallery from “Angelo’s and Vinci’s.” Titled “Villa Del Sol.” It’s a picture of the side of the Villa Del Sol in downtown Fullerton that has “The California” painted on it. The print is a little grainy but the subject is in focus, there are no shadows and it’s an interesting picture.

Ashlock grew up hearing rumors that this was the Hotel California that the Eagles sang about because Jackson Browne, who wrote lyrics for the Eagles, grew up in Fullerton.

“It always make me think of that story. But what impressed me the most about this was – to me – it kind of captures the essence of the town,” he said. “And especially the roots of the town back in the old days when there wasn’t much here, just this huge hotel in the beginning.”

Lejuwaan’s first camera was a gift from her grandfather who died in 1987 who was also into photography.

Lejuwaan earned her Bachelor of Arts degree is communications, emphasis in advertising and minor in art, from CSUF in 1988.

During the day she works as a communications manager at an occupational health firm.

“I’d like to get back full time into photography,” Lejuawaan said. “That’s how I’d like to end my life. As a full-time photographer.”

About Charles Purnell