Leena Mertanen (b. 1986, Finland) is a self-taught fine art photographer 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, her style is filled with popular cultural references and intellectual psychological analysis on the human condition. Having severe Stendhal-syndrome and almost unnaturally strong bond to the arts, her work is heavily influenced by expressionist painters and painting techniques she began studying out of curiosity at the age of 15, applying them later to photography. Mertanen got accepted to Central Saint Martins UK in 2015 to study photography, but began her academic art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki instead, quitting them after 6 months for personal reasons. Her often large-scale works have been in several private collections worldwide since her debut in 2005 when she was finishing her high school diploma at the Savonlinna Upper Secondary School of Arts and Music. She is known as hard-working perfectionist.
"I live the most in my photographs. I have an extraordinary relationship with my camera it being the closest friend I have.
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 vintage 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 to the darkroom.
I started having exhibitions at the age of 17. Three years later I was in E.R and intensive care after pushing myself too hard for my upcoming solo exhibition in Helsinki. I barely made it through. I didn’t photograph for seven years after that, I tried to forget. But I guess true love never dies - in 2014 I started taking pictures again, this time digital. Something calls me to photograph, it’s really difficult to explain. Like a whisper in my ear, that is impossible to ignore.
My self-portrait series introduces a variety show 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.
To love photography is to accept its silence. As an instrument camera cannot add anything to the truth on its own. I try to respect that in my work.”
I want to use this opportunity to thank all my (nice) teachers, gallery contacts, fans and everyone else who have ever believed in my artistic practise and in me.