Acclaimed photographer Joyce Tenneson has likened her work to a visual diary, her images not so much about capturing a moment in time as they are an essence, some hidden quality of her subject revealed through the light of her lens.
And when I gaze at her photographs, I can’t help but be startled by them, drawn as much to their aesthetic beauty as I am to a penetrating honesty that speaks to her models’ trust in her presence and to Tenneson’s own ability to weave a tender intimacy from what could easily be an exercise in structure and aloof curiosity.
While the New York City-based photographer has often turned her lens toward men and children in her vast catalog of work, it is her portraits of women that first caught my attention: women of all shapes and sizes and ages, offered up to the viewer with a mix of ethereal luminosity and probing intensity. Having grown up in an environment of primarily women and on the grounds of a convent, Tenneson has always had a deep interest in the feminine. But her fascination has always been with what lies beneath the surface, when women are able to slip from the confines of daily living and routine, and let down the walls that have been masking a crushing sorrow or untold joy, a quiet longing or flowering gift.
There is an element of the spiritual and the mystical in her works but so, too, the universal. For in looking at these women, emboldened to share of themselves in a deeper way, perhaps we, too, may seize the courage to reveal something more of ourselves. Or perhaps in the face of her “Wise Women” or “Light Warriors,” we may reclaim an aspect of our beauty, our power, find in her striking images a safe space for self-discovery and nurturing, her art the doorway to accepting the radiant mysteries and blessings of our femininity.
For me, Tenneson’s photographs celebrate both the human and the divine in each of us, while stirring that echo of the soul that says we are so much more than what our customary presence conveys.
- Naila Francis
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