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The Face Behind the Lens

The Face Behind the Lens

Photography is as popular a medium as it is delicate. It gives a person the ability to capture the essence of a single moment.

These moments can be anything from a wedding, an old friend, a landscape, or a portrait. Faces of Cleveland is a photojournal of some of Cleveland’s most colorful personalities, and each photo offers up a look into a moment in each person’s life and showcases who these people are, all thanks to a careful eye and well framed shot.

But what about the person behind the lens? What could be said about these captured moments? Why or how are they special to them? Laura Wimbels, the woman behind Faces of Cleveland, has her own story to tell.

Laura was raised in the suburbs of Berea during the ‘80s after being adopted at four months old by a Caucasian family. Being Puerto Rican, she couldn’t help but feel different from everyone else. Classmates and some parents didn’t help, often asking Laura about her origin or teasing her based on her skin tone. She developed a resiliency to these experiences, stating “I still carry them with me.”

In her transition into her teenage years and adulthood, Laura began to embrace those differences.  

Laura considered herself an oddball, saying she had the “television taste of an 80-year-old man” because she grew up without cable. She looked forward to catching the occasional edited horror movie. It was her love of the genre that led her into taking a special effects class in high school.

“I just fell in love with the idea of making the effects I would see in the movies,” Laura says.

Her experiences in this class would take her to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Her time in the Steel City  was an exciting new chapter. She wasn’t going for anything as flashy as special effects, instead majoring in web design. When she wasn’t in class, she would often find herself wandering around Pittsburgh taking photographs on a film camera. She always had an interest in photography, reminiscing on how she would develop film with her step father, comparing it to opening a present on Christmas. She noticed her interest shifting from web design to photography, finding herself more interested in how the photo would look on a website than the actual layout of the website itself.

After graduating from The Art Institute, she moved back to Cleveland taking a job at Ohio School Pictures traveling the scenic hills and corn fields of Ohio to take yearbook photos. Meanwhile, Laura also took classes at Cuyahoga Community College for photography. She finished her two-year degree and decided to quit her job taking yearbook photos and go freelance. A lot happened soon after, from getting engaged, calling off the wedding, buying a house, and working at Pat Catan’s.

It was around this time Faces of Cleveland came to exist. Seeing all that was going on in the city and Laura made it her goal to capture the personalities she had befriended during her newfound freedom. Collecting a veritable stockpile of the city’s favorite profile pictures, Laura took the format to Instagram. The resulting profile, Faces of Cleveland, quickly gained popularity with 500 followers just hours after being made.

After seeing how successful the Instagram account was and feeling creatively stunted at her job, Laura decided to drop Pat Catan’s to focus on turning Faces of Cleveland into a book. She would later meet Matt Chojnacki of 1984 Publishing who would go on to publish and help finance the book. The book served as a closing chapter in a tumultuous part in her life which allowed her discover a newfound love of a city and her place in it.

Since the release of Faces of Cleveland, Laura has taken an interest into criminology, to the point of enrolling in classes at Cleveland State University to pursue a career in forensic photography. This shift isn’t much of a surprise considering her love of her horror films. Her ever-changing ambitions seems only matched by her diligence. It’s interesting to think someone who felt so alienated by her peers at a young age is now responsible for bringing so many local artists and entrepreneurs together and providing a face for the city.

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