For the past two years, local photographer Laura Wimbels has been documenting Cleveland through portraits of its people. Through these faces, Wimbels showcases the character of our city. Her new book, Faces of Cleveland, collects these portraits and also includes seven essays from her subjects on our city.
“The best part about the book, to me, is that it isn't a book of the most ‘famous’ people in Cleveland, it's simply a book of a bunch of people who live here, love living here, and are dedicated to what they do here. The likelihood of seeing any of these people on any given day in a bar or coffee shop is high, and that's what being an active part of a city is about," says Canopy Collective owner Erika Jaenke. Canopy will be hosting a book release launch party on October 22 from 6 to 10 p.m. Many of the book's subjects are expected to be in attendance.
Wimbels’ book includes about 120 portraits, but the project continues with Wimbels already planning a second volume. To date, she’s photographed over 180 Clevelanders.
The book is available for pre-order through her website (facesofcle.com) for $35. The hardcover, 132-page book comes hand-signed by Wimbels. If you can't make it or want to pick it up in person, it'll be available at Mac’s Backs, CLE Clothing Company, Appletree Books and more.
For the book’s introduction, Wimbels asked seven of Cleveland’s most prominent and active “faces” to write page-long essays on the project and their city. Contributing “Voices of Cleveland” include Matthew Chojnacki, John Dudas, Laura Kubinski, Mike Polk Jr., Ramon Rivas II, Aaron Sechrist and Eric Williams.
“You can’t have a truly great superhero without a great city: Batman needs Gotham, Superman needs Metropolis, and the people inside this book need Cleveland,” John Dudas, owner of Carol & John’s Comic Book Shop, explains in his essay. “When you look into the eyes of the characters, you’ll see youthful optimism mirrored by aged contentment, with quite a bit of determination in between. These qualities are the backbone of our city, and in following Laura’s project we see a good life played out like a single, linear story with many faces.”
Laura Wimbels received a Bachelors of Science, Multimedia & Web Design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2005, and an Associates of Business, Photography from Cuyahoga Community College in 2010. After nearly ten years working in corporate photography, shooting inexpensive, mass-produced products for crafting companies, she felt her creativity suffering.
“It was mundane, mindless, and soul-sucking. But it was a salaried photo gig and I was grateful to have one," she says. "Over the years I noticed how I had steadily let my creativity atrophy. My dread while driving into work every day was growing. I knew that I didn’t want to spend my life shooting large quantities of inanimate items production-line style. I enjoy shooting people, not trinkets. Like a bad relationship, you know when it’s time to go, but sometimes you’re not brave enough to take the plunge.”
An unexpected moment on a random winter afternoon sparked Wimbels’ inspiration for the project. On Feb. 8, 2014, Wimbels met friends at the Tremont Taphouse for their annual Winter Beerfest. Taking her camera with her, Wimbels captured the joy of her friends in the moment, and found her muse in the people of her hometown.
“Never mind that it was bone-shattering cold, and never mind that we wouldn’t see the sun for another four months,” she reflects. “We wouldn’t stand by and let winter ruin a precious weekend day. We would do what we always do: take the adversity that is thrown at us, rearrange it, and make it into something great that nobody else besides fellow Clevelanders would truly appreciate and enjoy. It was one of those pure Cleveland moments. This is Cleveland. We make the best of it.”
In the days and weeks following, many chance encounters with eminent Clevelanders around town kickstarted the project into motion.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Clevelander, and I wanted to capture that,” Wimbels explains. “I wanted to showcase the people who I have actively witnessed making our fair city a better, more electrifying place to be. These are the people who I regularly see out and about, working day-to-day behind the scenes. Each of them plays a vital role (big or small) in our city’s revised script.
"As the project grew, so did my renewal of love for Cleveland and the people within it. I was finally working on something that I not only was excited about, but truly believed in. Faces of Cleveland gave me the courage to ultimately quit that awful corporate job. It afforded the ability to branch out and meet all of these amazing Clevelanders, something I otherwise would not have been able to do had I still been chained to a desk. Having the opportunity to document Cleveland’s familiar, vibrant cast of characters during our revitalization has been something I wouldn’t trade the world for. You’re sure to recognize at least a few of them in here, too.”