Joyce Tenneson works almost uniquely with portraits, but she transcends traditional notions of what portraiture can be. In some of her images, the models close their eyes or avert their gaze, but mostly they look the viewer in the eye. We get up close to the body, which is often naked, or simply and neutrally draped in fabric, as if Tenneson wants us to encounter the person in the picture, perhaps encounter ourselves. She says that her best work look like her, perhaps not physically but spiritually.
Joyce Tenneson began her photographic career in the 1960s and 1970s by photographing herself, her innermost fears and dreams. In the 1980s she began photographing other women and exploring human archetypes.
In her work “Wise Women”, Tenneson depicts the beauty and wisdom of old age. She wanted to erase the negative attitudes surrounding old age by portraying women in the ages 65 to 100 who continue to develop and grow stronger with age.
In her next project, “Amazing Men”, she portrays older men from diverse walks of life. Transcending the stereotypical image of masculinity, these intimate portraits depict men whose long lives have shaped their bodies, expressions and relationships.
Joyce Tenneson has also devoted several projects to portraying the lives and forms of plants. “Trees and the Alchemy of Light” is a symbiosis between human beings and nature. In these gold-leafed landscape images, reminiscent of the works of the photographic pioneers of the 19th century, the people have been replaced by trees and plants but she is still looking for the spiritual element in her subjects. As with her people portraits, she seeks to reveal, in a single frame, the complex lives of trees – including their hardships and tragedies.
In Tenneson’s botanical portraits, such as “Flower Portraits”, “Intimacy” and “Trees”, plants are presented as individuals with a personality, who embrace one another and look for closeness and intimacy.
Critics have described Tenneson’s portraits as otherworldly and mysterious. Redolent of sensuality and mythology, her innovative and personal visual signature has had a great influence on many photographers who have tried to attain the magic of Tenneson’s work.
“I’m attracted to people and I like people, but in my work it goes beyond that. I’m very attracted to discovering, to taking off veils or looking into the looking glass; all the devices that allow us to get to whatever that mysterious kernel is. Sometimes that mysterious kernel, as in an oyster, is a pearl. But sometimes, as in an artichoke, right before you get to the heart there are spikes,” Joyce Tenneson explains.
For Joyce Tenneson her images are a lifelong process, an interior journey and an ongoing quest for her own identity. She has found some of the answers to the questions that have occupied her throughout her life, but at the age of 69 she is still asking and wondering who she will be in 25 years time.
Tenneson’s work has been presented in more than one hundred exhibitions all over the world and she is represented in a large number of museum and private collections. Her photographs have appeared on countless covers for magazines such as Time, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Premiere, Esquire and the New York Times Magazine. She is also a much sought-after portrait photographer with clients in Europe, Japan and the United States.
She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the International Centre of Photography’s Infinity Award, for best applied photography, and the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Professional Photographers of America.
A recent poll conducted by American Photo Magazine voted Tenneson among the ten most influential women photographers in the history of photography. She lives and works in Rockport, Maine.
Joyce Tenneson likes to complete her projects in the form of a book and in a career spanning more than twenty years she has published a great number of books of her own photography.
1984 Joyce Tenneson Photographs
2000 Light Warriors
2002 Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage, and Beauty
2003 Flower Portraits
2004 Amazing Men
2008 Joyce Tenneson: A Life in Photography
2011 Assignment Work
2011 Shells: Nature’s Exquisite Creations
2012 Trees and the Alchemy of Light