Friends, I’m so excited to introduce you to Leanna today. She is a force—one of strength and kindness and creativity. I admire her authenticity and perspective; I’ve tried to explain to Leanna how I see her but I feel at a loss for words. She’s got that something, you know what I mean?
Her authenticity, perspective, force, and that something are why I’m so glad she has begun this work as a photographer. I believe she is doing with her camera what I try to do with my words: Tell stories that are true. Words are not the only way to communicate; in fact, they so often fail us. The images she captures do what words could not.
I’m passionate about our stories being told—about the true parts of ourselves being seen and honored and celebrated. In that way, my work and Leanna’s work are so closely aligned. I love that words are not all we’ve got. I love that Leanna is doing what she’s doing.
I’ll let her take it from here:
Hi! My name is Leanna Ramsey-Corrales.
I am a documentary photographer (and a mom and a psychotherapist – but let’s talk about the photography for now). I live in Seattle and I specialize in real moments, real portraits. Now a lot of photographers use this language – “real” or “storytelling” or “lifestyle,” so it can be hard to know what those words even mean. I don’t know what other people mean, but I’m talking about the kind of photography where people are unposed, wearing their regular clothes, doing their regular stuff. My subjects are usually in their homes or at their favorite park or coffee shop. Sometimes they are in their beds cuddling in their pjs, or comforting their toddler having a meltdown.
Sometimes my pictures are of bedhead or a friend’s beautiful baby eating a dirt lunch.
Why would I possibly take these kinds of pictures, you ask? That doesn’t sound pretty, you exclaim!
I take these kinds of pictures because they are true.
I’m not saying photography is magic and it heals everything. But I believe having beautiful images of our selves being loved by those we care about can change our hearts in a way that nothing else can. I believe we should carry them on our phones and print them for our walls and post them on our social media. I believe these pictures, of us giving and receiving love, can change our marriages and influence the way our children feel about our family.
Well that sounds nice, you might think, but I COULD NEVER. The risk! The feelings! The crud in my dirty windowsills!
I know what I ask is not easy and I know it is not small.
I grew up in the era of the feminine personal art at my local library and in magazines. As a teen and a young adult, I was entranced by Tracey Emin’s bed, Sandra Cisneros poems, and all the beautiful confessional lady women who laid their insides out for us, glistening, so that we might know our own selves and the world better. The stories that women told, the honest ones my mom whispered in the kitchen, and the times my aunts showed me their secrets, were better than any shiny pretend thing a supermodel or popular girl could ever show me.
I felt then, in my 20’s, like a lot of us feel—like I could not see my own face. I believed that others knew more about me than I knew about myself. That I was really great but also kinda bad and super confused by it all. Who was I? And could photography help me answer that question?
I tried the way so many of us do. I asked around and found someone who cost a lot and took really beautiful pictures, a fancy photographer. I hoped they could tell me things I didn’t know about myself. I hoped they could tell me what I was supposed to do and what I wanted. This very talented photographer took beautiful pictures of me. But I am not myself in them. I am myself posing. All I see when I look at them is the extra-straight line of the shoulders. The exaggerated laugh in the mouth for the camera. It’s as if I were yelling at the camera, “Can’t you see I’m happy!?”
It’s 2017 now. I’m in my thirties and things have changed. We all have cameras in our pockets and most of us are privileged enough to have thousands of pictures of ourselves on our phones, and that changes everything. If you have millions of pictures of yourself, why do you want more? What can a professional photographer give you that you can’t give yourself?
My photographs are not THE TRUTH. No pictures can possibly give us that. And they are not a mirror. But if you ask me to, I will take a look at you and show you how beautiful and wonderful and mysterious you are.
And maybe you want that.
And maybe you don’t.
But those are the only kind of pictures I want to take.
Earlier this year, I was the artist in residence at a local nonprofit called the Aurora Commons, which provides radical hospitality. One day, I was hanging around the commons, offering free portraits.
My portraits are a collaborative process and I asked the people sitting, “What do you want your portrait to look like?” Together, we worked to achieve that goal. One heartbreakingly gorgeous man with needle marks all over his hands, who was worried about his cowlick, asked if I could show how lonely he was in his portrait.
Why did he want the truth told? That truth? Why did he believe that the vulnerable truth about himself was more special – more worthwhile – more important – than fake happiness?
Not very many people take pictures of me. I wish they would. I LOVE pictures of myself. My best friend has a picture of me trying on a very large pair of underwear on her phone that comes up when I call her. This is one of the best pictures of me in the whole world.
I love pictures of me that tell the truth. That I am a nice lady who is sometimes very bitchy. That I am kind and funny and weird and silly and different every day. I want to remember my life when I am old. I want to remember my son when he is grown. I want to remember the feel of his skin and the smell of his hair, and that picture of him on his first day of school will not give that to me.
I want to remember that awful summer when I caught a cold that just wouldn’t quit, and my best friend came to take care of me and one night I just couldn’t get dressed and that was ok because my family thinks I’m as beautiful in my pjs as I am in a gown. (photo credit: Ashley Roby)
I want to remember that time on the ferry when it was too cold to get out of the car and we entertained the kid with zombie faces and monster sounds and it was better than the party we were going to and better than if we had stayed home because it was special and it was us.
Every year I make an album for the front room, for friends and family to flip through. Then I make a tiny one we store in the bedroom, just for us. In our bedroom album are all the pictures that we are naked in or crying in or yelling in or lost in or it’s the middle of the night or we are kissing in. These pictures are blurry and silly and weird and strange. They are like this selfie that will always remind me in a visceral way what it feels like to fly on an airplane with a tiny human in my lap.
These pictures are us and I will not let them ever get lost. Never.
Pictures can get past our defenses. Our brain believes pictures differently than it believes words.
I hope you are inspired by these pictures of me and my family being our real selves with each other. The next time you go on vacation to the cabin, think about having a photographer come out for the day. The next time your kid has a birthday party or you have a family brunch celebrating grandma or you are planning an ordinary day at home in the yard, think about having a photographer come and capture your realness. Your real hearts. Your real love. Your real beauty.
I know it’s scary. But you deserve it.
You can follow Leanna’s work on Facebook and Instagram.
Interested in booking Leanna? Check out her website for more information!