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.
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.