“In front of the lens, you can be anyone you want to.”
Since inheriting an old film camera in the late nineties, photography has been Leea Gorell’s way of honoring the human spirit. In front of her lens, she hopes her subjects feel seen, loved, and limitless. Her photographic process is about witnessing another’s life and providing tangible proof that it exists. “I am always looking to see what people have gone through and learned on their journey in hopes that I can capture that in an image,” she explains.
Leea came to America from her native Finland with a dream: to establish herself as a professional photographer. Though it has taken 20 years, countless odd jobs, and moves between continents and countries, she finally has her own studio in Asheville, North Carolina. Even though the path has been marked by plenty of setbacks, heartbreaks, and uncertainties, she sees it as perfectly meant-to-be.“I have started over again and again with only a suitcase in my hand and what kept me going was never giving up,” Leea explains.
In 2002 Leea arrived in America with only a camera, $200 in cash, and a commitment to make it as a photographer. “Knowing I had nothing to go back to in Finland gave me an all or nothing mentality and the courage to make something of myself,” she remembers.
As a self-taught photographer, Leea had the freedom to develop her own style at her liberty. She fine-tuned her artsy, minimalistic, European-inspired aesthetic through experimentation and play. “Though I am a perfectionist at heart, especially with retouching,” she explains, “I saw that nothing ever went according to plan, especially on set, but usually and fortunately, turned out even better.”
After moving around countries and cities many times, Leea landed in Asheville in 2014. Its dynamic energy, diversity, and constant evolution still inspire her today. The photographer finds her imagination constantly stretched when capturing the city’s artists, musicians, and makers. Yet, no matter the subject, Leea finds it necessary to connect on a deeper than surface level. She enjoys taking her time to observe and encourage their natural behavior and have genuine conversations. It is about creating a bond of trust and breaking down barriers.“It’s extremely rare for someone to have no guards, so I am always trying to loosen people up,” she explains. The goal is that they just do what they do except in front of a backdrop and with better lighting.
This in-the-moment, spontaneous approach translates whether Leea is taking a corporate headshot or directing a subject in her signature “Character” portraits. In capturing the image of an artist, banker, or small business owner, her hope is that people feel as natural as possible. The final photographic product may be grounded or purposely poetic, however, the process is always built around empowerment. At the end of the session, her hope is that the other person is less inhibited, confined by outside expectations, and more connected to their truth and in touch with who they are.