Joyce Tenneson: Translating Inner Light to Film Page 2
Tenneson says that while working on this project, she was very surprised to
discover that all of these women had achieved a unique beauty and wisdom of
their own. She's observes, "During the two years of full-time travel,
photographing and interviewing my subjects, I myself was transformed. I no longer
fear getting older." And now, she strives to spread this message far and
wide. She mentions proudly that Wise Women was featured on the "Today"
show--"It's great for our visibility, and for appreciation
of our elder women."
From Birth to Death
Tenneson says that after the all-encompassing project of Wise Women, she went back to photographing flowers "as a way of refreshing myself." However, because her attitude toward aging had been altered by photographing elderly people, her approach to flower photography took an interesting turn as well. She approached the Flower Portraits project with the same fervor, and says she's worked on it seven days a week for the past year. The book, which was published in April 2003, depicts flowers throughout their life cycle: birth, bloom, and death, "which reflects back on the human condition." The images are produced in the same brown tones ("not sepia," she points out) as those in Wise Women.
The flowers were all photographed against a black background--"I
wanted them to be like real portraits, like those in Wise Women, where I concentrated
on their faces, hands and eyes," she comments. Tenneson's goal was
to reveal what's inside her floral subjects, rather than presenting "just
a pretty picture." She says that she concentrated on photographing only
a small number of the many species of flowers, those that had "distinct
visual and inner personalities."
In her written introduction to Flower Portraits, Tenneson states, "As a portrait photographer, I see flowers not as mere decorations, but as distinctive personalities. Before I do a human portrait, I try to learn as much as I can about my subject, so when I begin the photo session, I have a sense of their history. I try to open myself to their universe--to discover some inner essence that helps crystallize their uniqueness. I photograph flowers with the same respect."
Many of her portraits--both human and floral--seem to glow, and take on a transcendent quality. How does she do this? "It's not a technical thing," she replies. "There's an interior life--an inner light--that's often revealed in my subjects." Tenneson says that she continues to photograph flowers--and that it's part of a trilogy of work, one that comes full circle with her Amazing Men project. As with Wise Women, she's chosen a vast cross-section of male subjects, and is busy traveling cross-country to photograph them.
According to Tenneson, Amazing Men will take about two years to complete. "I'm always juggling three projects," this tireless photographer says. Tenneson always been extremely passionate about her work, and appears to have boundless energy. She's also fortunate, she says, to have three full-time assistants and interns. "We all work on my book projects full time," she points out, adding that her staff are all artists--and for that reason, there's a lot of creative energy in her studio.
As for the equipment she prefers, "I use all types of cameras--Canon
EOS-1n, Hasselblad, and currently, a Mamiya with a Leaf back." Tenneson
says she'll use a variety of films, depending on what she's shooting.
Lately she's been using Kodak T400 CN and Portra 400 black-and-white.
In terms of future projects, she says "All I can see right now is Amazing Men," although she adds that a museum has approached her about the possibility of doing a 30-year retrospective of her work. Occasionally she'll do some commercial assignments ("about 5% of the time") for the New York Times Magazine and other editorial clients.
However, Tenneson maintains that her book projects are her passion. They're personally funded by her, and published by Bulfinch Press (a division of Little, Brown & Company/AOL Time-Warner). She has clearly earned the right to do what she wants creatively. "I'm very lucky," she says. "I'm riding with it while I can. These projects are a lot of hard work, but definitely a labor of love."
To see more of Joyce Tenneson's work, visit www.tenneson.com.
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