Joyce Tenneson
Joyce Tenneson
Joyce Tenneson
Joyce Tenneson

 "I have always liked to photograph people of all ages. I'm fascinated by the way skin metamorphoses over time, from infancy to old age. And I find people of all body types—from heavy to thin—interesting as well."
—Joyce Tenneson

Joyce Tenneson, described by critics as "one of America's most interesting portrayers of the human figure" combines sensuality with spirituality to create ethereal, and often mystical, images. Born on May 29, 1945, in Boston, Massachusetts, Tenneson did not have what one would call a typical childhood. She grew up on the grounds of a convent where her parents worked, an experience which would have a tremendous impact on her future work. "This world I grew up in—one of rituals and cycles—still haunts me visually," she explains. "Perhaps this is why I have always been fascinated by the stages of life, from birth to old age, and then regeneration." Tenneson's mother Anna, who died when her daughter was just 21 years old, was an identical twin, a connection that fueled Tenneson's creativity, as well as her "fascination" with identity, inner connection, and mirroring. "I'm mesmerized by the way mirrors seem to have a magical life of their own. For me, reality is a combination of our outer and inner realities, and the use of mirrors and other techniques, like double exposures, leaves room for the unknown to emerge."

In her 20s, Tenneson explored the autobiographical aspects of her photography by taking hundreds of self-portraits. Since then, she says, her work has become more metaphorical, though it is still "part of an ongoing visual diary that reflects my inner journey." The first 15 years of this journey was spent as an art school instructor in Washington, D.C., during which time she published two books [IN/SIGHTS: Self-Portraits by Women, 1978, and Joyce Tenneson, Photographs, 1983] and had many international exhibitions. In the mid-Eighties, after "feeling restless and yearning to move forward and grow both personally and professionally," Tenneson moved from Washington, D.C., to New York to try her hand at assignment work. "I wanted to try to bring a sense of the spiritual into the world of commerce."

She succeeded. Tenneson has become one of the most sought after photographers of our time, with an immediately recognizable signature style. She's photographed many celebrities and public personalities—Jodie Foster, Demi Moore, Kathleen Battle, Patrick Stewart, Natasha Richardson, Ed Harris, Susan Sarandon and Judith Jamison among others—and her assignment work has appeared in many major magazines, including Time, Life, Esquire, Premiere and The New York Times Magazine. Her personal work has been shown in over 100 exhibitions worldwide and included in many museum and private collections. She is the author of six books—Light Warriors [Bulfinch Press, 2000] is the most recent one—and has won numerous awards, including the International Center of Photography's Infinity Award for best applied photography. In 1990 she was named "Photographer of the Year" by the international organization, "Women in Photography," and in a poll conducted by American Photo magazine, she was voted among the ten most influential women photographers in the history of photography.

So what's next? Tenneson is already hard at work on her seventh book: photographs of women between the ages 70 to 100. And while this one will finish her investigation of the lifecycle of the female psyche, she says she'll never stop being curious about people. "People are the center of my work and I'll always be interested in their inner life. It's what's below the surface that continues to fascinate me."

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