Portrait gallery an about face for downtown

Portraits include, clockwise from top left, a man with bags

When Charlie Clark glances at a black-and-white photograph of
Diego and Margarita Ramos, he sees more than just the owners of
Garlic City Cafe.
The photo is one of 17 featured at Clark’s store as part of
the

Faces of Downtown

gallery, which has been open for public viewing since last
year’s Oct. 30 Downtown Wine Stroll.
When Charlie Clark glances at a black-and-white photograph of Diego and Margarita Ramos, he sees more than just the owners of Garlic City Cafe.

To Clark, they show why Downtown Gilroy is worth loving.

“They are wonderful people. I call over there almost every day for my lunch,” said Clark, who owns Leedo Art & Framing downtown. “I just love these folks, and I love that restaurant.”

The photo is one of 17 featured at Clark’s store as part of the “Faces of Downtown” gallery, which has been open for public viewing since last year’s Oct. 30 Downtown Wine Stroll.

The project is the brainchild of developer and downtown business owner Gary Walton, who wanted to reveal the human side of downtown through timeless black-and-white photographs. He said he wanted to show Downtown Gilroy was a friendly, interesting location, and not the bleak, uninviting area that some people have characterized it as.

Before sending out the photographers – former Gavilan College classmates Jenny Pariseau and Amanda Marshall-Kapp – Walton laid out his ground rules: The photos had to be in black and white, and they had to be of people.

“I think downtown is comprised of people. It’s not just buildings,” Walton said. “It puts a face on downtown. These connections are important to the community.”

Pariseau said the response from unsuspecting people was mostly positive.

She said downtown “gets a bad rap,” and she had hoped “Faces of Downtown” would change that.

“We wanted people to see friendly faces and that sense of community,” she said.

The two snapped the downtown photos from July to October, Pariseau said. She said they met a character or two along the way as well.

One man, who spoke little English, told Pariseau, “No, no, I’m too ugly,” she recalled, before he happily let her capture his mug.

During the gallery’s opening in October, people had as much fun pointing out people they knew in the photos as they had viewing them, Pariseau said.

“Everybody was spotting someone they knew,” she said.

That’s how Michael O’Donoghue found out a photo of he and his 2-year-old niece Victoria, happily munching on an ice cream cone, had been selected.

“Someone called me up and told me it was hanging on the wall in the gallery,” he said.

O’Donoghue said whoever photographed him was “sort of sneaky” about it, but he was glad to be a part of the gallery.

“It probably wasn’t my best side,” he said. “But it captured a moment of enjoying life.”

The gallery captured many moments.

There’s one of a coffee shop employee caught with an almost-startled look on her face. There’s a black man with a snow white beard and bags slung over each shoulder.

A man from a pet store, who, in a grainy, despondent scene befitting that of the Great Depression, cradles a majestic macaw while a disinterested mutt sits at his feet in the store’s doorway.

A cigarette rests between the index and middle fingers of a hair-slicked, partially shadowed old man relaxing with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. In another photo, a man in a fedora hat offers a friendly smile from a balcony overlooking the street.

Walton said these photos are just the beginning of a bigger project. At this year’s May 14 wine stroll, downtown visitors will have a chance to have their own mugshots added to a larger photo project, which might include large banners downtown displaying the faces of many Gilroyans.

“This is about people,” Walton said. “Again, it’s people who make downtown.”

Clark said “Faces of Downtown” would be replaced by a new gallery by this year’s Downtown Wine Stroll.

All the gallery’s photos are great, Clark said, though he can’t help but pick the one of Diego and Margarita as his favorite.

“The picture just captures them so well,” he said. “They are just such great folks. They’re always happy and cheerful, and I just like the picture.”

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