Leena Mertanen (b. 1986, Finland) is a contemporary master of fine art photography who examines various aspects of humanity, culture and femininity in her distinctive, often staged self- portraits. She uses herself as a model in her absurd, dark, humorist, emotional works making personal universal, combining often unexpected elements and purist technical know-how to various different ways of thematic approach to modern photography.
Drawing inspiration from all kinds of cultural history including fashion, music, films and literature, the visual style of Miss Mertanen is filled with popular cultural references and intellectual psychological analysis on the human condition. Her often large-scale works have been in numerous private collections worldwide since her debut solo exhibition in 2005.
I was supposed to become a scientist. Or at least not an artist. When I was 15 I enrolled into art school just to confuse my parents, having no clue whatsoever about art, got in with top points, left my hometown and was told I could be an artist, if I focused a bit, but I didn't. I was a pain in the ass-student, bright kid, with zero interest, but everything changed when I borrowed a 70s Canon from my dad (just to examine how it was built), yet out of curiosity I loaded a black and white-film in it - and that was it. Like it. I cancelled everything else. From that day on all I wanted, from life, was to photograph. I whistled as I walked, I was so happy. I developed my films and printed all my works, by hand in a darkroom and practically lived there... I was a fanatic photo nerd - that being in superlative - between the age of 16 to 20 there was mostly film in my fridge, as I spent all my money on paper, films and (photo-) chemicals. Sometimes even my mail was delivered in the darkroom.
I began having exhibitions at the age of 17. I was in E.R and intensive care at the age of 20 out of exhaustion relating to work and exhibitions. When I was found in coma the doctors said that if I even live, or wake up anymore, I most definitely would not walk again, ever. But I do. Perhaps I returned from the shadows to continue my work, but I didn't photograph for 7 years after that.
My self-portrait series show a varietee of goofy, tormented, sometimes even dead characters. They're like a constantly evolving circus whose ringmaster is pretty much lost, or drunk, or both all the time, and I'm just on the side, observing quietly. I never get tired of watching the world, the people, and yes, there's a little bit of me in every photograph although I am not even half as colourful as my arsenal of performers.
I don't know where the power of expression and eye for detail comes from. Looking back and examining my early works academically, even the first film showed promise - shaky, wonky, but with substance.
I have been told numerous times that I have sharp eyes and a rare gift of finding nuances in the world, and to be completely honest with you, I don't have a clue how. I have never even studied photography, or art in the sense I would have done what I was told to do, I have just always intuitively known what needs to be done.
Shadows... Some paint the picture, some just linger over them. However, as a photographer I understand next to a deep shadow there is always a brilliant highlight. And that's what makes it interesting and worth fighting for."