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The distinctive personality of flowers

Tenneson turns from the human body to find the same distinctive qualities in blossoms

Joyce Tenneson's new book of photographs is like a small volume of poetry, full of evocative images. It also allows a glimpse into the photographer's ability to find extraordinary beauty in ordinary places.

Known for her "portraits" of the human body, Tenneson frequently covers her subjects in a transparent length of cloth, which lends a mystical feel to the image. Some years ago, when she was teaching at the Maine Photographic Workshop, I saw her collection of nudes of older women - a work in progress. This intriguing exhibition exposed the elegant beauty of older, not-so-perfect figures.

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In her new work, she again lifts a veil and reveals startling beauty. "As a portrait photographer," she writes, "I see flowers not as mere decorations, but as distinctive personalities. When I make a human portrait, I try to discover some inner essence that helps crystallize that person's uniqueness. I photograph flowers with the same respect."

Floating against a black background, the personalities of these flowers open to the light, full of fragrance and memories of others' art. A shapely two-tone tulip is a vivid reminder of Edward Weston's black-and-white portrait of a green pepper. The curve of Calla lilies signal Georgia O'Keefe's colors and forms. How can the delicate contours of a single poppy petal bring on visions of Henry Moore's large-scale, massive sculptures?

Tenneson has few words to add to this specially arranged bouquet. She offers a mere 52-word introduction, with occasional quotations scattered among the flowers from thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rachel Carson, and Albert Einstein. But that's enough for this intimate collection.

Susan Sweetnam is the photo archivist for the Monitor.


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