Joyce Tenneson: Translating Inner Light to Film

All photos © Joyce Tenneson


As one of today's most successful and influential photographers, Joyce Tenneson has a unique gift for portraying a person's true character in her images. This ability to reveal the true persona in her portrait subjects has become her signature style--one that elicits an emotional response from the viewer.

Two Hydrangea petals, which appear in Joyce Tenneson's most recent book, Flower Portraits.

Tenneson's intriguing photography has appeared on numerous magazine covers throughout the years, including Time, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Premiere, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. She's a sought-after portrait artist, and has photographed numerous people from all walks of life, ranging from female police officers to celebrities. She still teaches at Santa Fe and Maine photographic workshops ("they're like family to me"). Her long list of honors includes 2003 Photographer of the Year at the PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association (PMDA) awards dinner in March.

She's also the author of eight books to date, including Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage, and Beauty (2002), and the just-published Flower Portraits: The Life Cycle of Beauty (2003). This latest book is an interesting departure from human portraiture, the subject with which she's most closely associated.

Christine Lee, one of 80 Wise Women portrayed in Tenneson's book.

Sandersonia (Chinese Lantern).

She's long been known for sensual, ethereal portrayals of her subjects, particularly women. She began working in color during the mid-80s, and these soft, pastel-toned photos have illustrated books such as Illuminations (1997) and Transformations (1993). However, Tenneson states, "This is who I was 10 or 12 years ago. I think my work has evolved, and so have I." Her muted color palette has given way to rich, brown-toned black-and-whites. Also, she says, she feels much more connected with nature: "My attention to detail has been sharpened so much because of my work with flowers."

Tenneson says she's actually been taking pictures of flowers "My whole career. But previously, those images never seemed to have my imprint." What changed her perception? Meeting and photographing over 300 fascinating women aged 65--100 for her Wise Women book project; "women in the third phase of their life."

Vanity Roses depicted in varying stages of their lives.

A Compelling Portrayal
Tenneson, by her admission, was once afraid of aging--as are many of us. Previously, she explored another facet of the female cycle with her book entitled Light Warriors (2000), which focused on women from 21 different countries, ranging in age from 20--55. To find her more-mature subjects for Wise Women, she says, "I looked everywhere--I wanted to represent all walks of life." She distributed press packets from coast to coast, and hunted down celebrities. The project, she says, took a total of "three years, working seven days a week." Tenneson points out that the work and travel involved with this project "seemed endless. It was time-consuming, but after a while it became a passion."