72dpi Laena at MIALaena Wilder ‘79 is a professional photographer, oral historian, and artist whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in Toronto, Russia, and Hong Kong, among other places.

Her most recent photography project, Origins and Destinations, is a large-scale portrait collection that celebrates the beauty and diversity of people traveling through the Miami International Airport, where her exhibition debuted earlier this fall.

The idea for Origins and Destinations was born out of Laena’s own trip to Miami.

“As I sat waiting for my flight I fell in love with the cross-section of individuals surrounding me," said Laena. "I became curious about the people who were sharing the complex crossroads of North, South, East, and West.”

Laena then photographed and interviewed more than 200 airport travelers over the course of six different trips to Miami. The final collection of portraits and stories brings nameless faces to life and makes visible the tapestry of fellow airport travelers who would otherwise appear unfamiliar and their stories unknown.

“If you just see a picture of a person it’s really easy for it to reinforce a stereotype, and for you to have the same thoughts you’ve always had about somebody who looks like that,” said Laena. “But what I find is if you hear a person’s story, it really humanizes them, and that’s what I’m interested in with this work.”

Laena’s artistry focuses on storytelling, connection, and humanity, and the roots of her work are directly traceable to her years studying at Nueva under “Mother Art” Barbara Marino. One day in particular forever changed the way Laena saw the world and inspired her to create Origins and Destinations.

When Laena was ten, she was walking down Market Street in San Francisco with Barbara who leaned over and said, “I want you to look at each person we pass, and I want you to find the beauty in their uniqueness.” They then spent quite a bit of time looking at each person and identifying their individual beauty, in people from all walks of life, whether it was a business person or a homeless person.

“We eventually found beauty in each person, and that shifted my way of looking at other human beings — to look past the superficial way they might appear and actually look deeper,” said Laena. “It’s one of the reasons I became a photographer. I can’t help but see beauty in each person I encounter.”

That particular art lesson, and many other moments spent with Barbara, constitute Laena’s most vivid memories at Nueva. Some of the techniques Laena mastered while studying under Barbara were the same assignments she later took on in college: large-scale blind contour drawing, ancient Chinese bamboo watercolor techniques, and the use of oil pastels.

“Nueva played a crucial role in who I am today,” said Laena.

She cites the freedom to explore her interests as the key to unlocking her natural talents and identifying her passions from a young age.

“That is a big deal,” said Laena. “I know many mature adults who still do not know what they want to do with their lives.”

Laena also appreciated Nueva’s nurturing environment where she felt safe to make mistakes as part of the learning process.

“We were encouraged to take risks and try new things without the fear of failing,” Laena said. “Being able to push the boundaries of what is possible at a young age helped me develop the confidence to go after my dreams as an adult.”

Laena particularly resonates with photography as an art medium. “I love the way photography uses both sides of my brain — my inner visionary and technician both have important roles. And I love the way photography can be used for social activism — to create change.”

Laena’s other projects are equally intriguing and worth exploring on her website. You can view Origins and Destinations at the Miami airport through March 2016 at gates D21, D24, D27, and D30, or at www.wildervision.com.



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