Faces of wisdom


POSTED: Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It took the proverbial “;room with a view”; to rejuvenate the spirit of Joyce Tenneson.

An internationally renowned portrait photographer, the 64-year-old Tenneson moved to Rockport, Maine, four years ago from the hustle-and-bustle life she led in New York City. Her home looks out over the harbor, and the peaceful location also places her in a time of her life filled with reevaluation and new beginnings.

She's hoping she'll find similar inspiration from another body of water, the Pacific Ocean, when she brings her camera to Hawaii, where she'll deliver a free talk and two workshops this week in conjunction with the University of Hawaii Outreach College's Pacific New Media program.

She's no stranger to the lecture hall, having taught for 30 years at the Maine Photographic Workshops, now known as the Maine Media Workshops. She'll be talking about her career retrospective “;Joyce Tenneson: A Life in Photography.”; The work collected in the book dates from her first black-and-white studies in self-portraiture, through the striking and ethereal color and duotone portraits that made her reputation, and up to more recent, unpublished images.

        » Where: Art Building Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa
        » When: 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday
        » Admission: Free
        » Workshops: ”;Moving Forward with Your Photography”; (for experienced photographers), 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Kuykendall 410; and “;Portraits with Joyce Tenneson,”; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Krauss 012. Fee is $120 fee per workshop.
        » Info: 956-8244 or visit www.outreach.hawaii.edu/pnm

Her best-known collection is 2002's “;Wise Women,”; an enthralling group of portraits of women between the ages of 65 and 100 whom Tenneson also interviewed.

At the behest of her publisher, she followed that show with the similarly themed “;Amazing Men.”; Two of her earlier books from the 1990s, “;Transformations”; and “;Illuminations,”; contain some of photography's most memorable portraiture.

“;These are books as an art form in their own right,”; said Tenneson by phone from her Maine home a couple of weeks ago. “;After doing 13 of these, I thought it was time to do a retrospective, including some of my favorite images from over the past 40 years.

“;But 'Wise Women' is the book that has become the best-seller. I still get e-mails every day from women thanking me for that book. I'm touched that women still find it meaningful seven years later and, after 10 printings, it still has a life of its own. Since I was an English major as an undergraduate many years ago, and enjoy writing, I had fun editing my interviews of the women I photographed. They certainly gave more insight into the photos.”;

IN A READERS poll conducted by American Photo magazine, Tenneson was voted among the 10 most influential female photographers in photography's history. When asked whether the gender-exclusive recognition concerned her, she said, “;I didn't mind that. I'm obviously pleased to be so well thought of in that company. These are women I am proud to be associated with. Still, we're all human beings, so why separate people? But, nevertheless, I'll take the praise.”;

In July the Portland Museum of Art in Maine exhibited “;Sisters in Time: Affinities in the Work of Julia Margaret Cameron and Joyce Tenneson,”; which showed Tenneson's work alongside those of the 19th-century British portraitist.

“;The museum's curator had the idea of comparing my work to Cameron's. I was very happy, obviously, with the idea because I've always loved Cameron's work. We both have very strong personalities, and our own personal styles show that we're not afraid to do work close to our hearts. ... Cameron also did so many portraits of women at that time, and she was one of first photographers to go below the surface and into her subject's personal world.”;

TENNESON came into photography first as a model for Polaroid in 1967. Curious to learn more, she asked for, and got from the company, a 20-by-24-inch camera.

“;Back then, photography was not taught in colleges; that's only happened over the last 25 years. So I was excited for the opportunity to get a free camera and free film.”;

She considers herself lucky that photography gave voice to her creativity.

“;I was really attracted to the autobiographical aspect of it, so I started with self-portraits when I was in my 20s and early 30s. My work then expanded to a whole interest in the psyche and human condition, and it's those portraits that defined my style.”;

Tenneson got her master's degree in fine arts, with a concentration in photography, from George Washington University, mainly so she could teach.

She later moved to New York City to do assignment work, and her portraits of the famous graced the pages of such magazines as Life, Esquire and the New York Times' Sunday supplement.

Her subjects have included Ben Kingsley, Norah Jones, Judi Dench, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tom Brokaw, Bill Cosby, Willie Nelson, James Taylor and Marisa Tomei.

Eventually, Tenneson wanted to concentrate on putting out her own collections and, in need of more space, decided to move to an area that appealed to her.

In moving to Maine, she said, “;I wanted to bring my whole archive under one roof, and to work on it - filing and re-scanning the negatives - near the Rockport harbor is such a gift.”;

Tenneson is looking forward to meeting Hawaii's photo students and professionals.

After her Oahu visit, she'll head to the Big Island, armed with guidebooks, to look for more artistic inspiration.

That side trip might help with her current endeavor, editing a book called “;The View Project.”;

“;It'll be a book of images from other well-known photographers who have been moved by different kinds of landscapes, whether they be a mountain range, a desert or a city. I have about 80 images so far. Those pictures will also reflect each photographer's inner life, something beyond the surface beauty.”;

With a beautiful view of the harbor outside her home, Tenneson said the move “;really changed my life. I realize that, all my life, I've been called by the ocean. It immediately balances me. It's also put me in touch with the sense of the divine, and with this project, curious about other views and other places. I know it's something I'll be working on for quite a while.”;

On the Net:
» www.tenneson.com