Joyce Tenneson

Joyce Tenneson has spent the better part of her career looking inward – trying to peel back the surface veneer of an individual or object and look for its essence. Tenneson’s human portraits go beyond a surface recording of her subject’s likeness. Her work is a combination of portraiture and mythology. She is interested in discovering the archetypes of our being. Her signature images attempt to show the inner person who hovers behind the facade. Before Tenneson takes the portrait of a sitter, she tries to learn as much she can about her subjects so she has a sense of their history. Tenneson tries to open herself to their universe – to discover some inner essence that helps crystallize their uniqueness. She also photographs flowers as she does people. The artist records the physical aspects of their beauty, aiming to capture the emotional dimensions of their being, and sees flowers not as mere decorations but as distinct personalities. She photographs flowers with the same respect as she does portraits. Tenneson follows their life cycles from birth to bud to bloom and to their inevitable wilting.

 As a child, her parents worked on the grounds of a convent, which is where she grew up with her two sisters. Tenneson and her sister “were enlisted to be in holiday pageants and processions. It was a mysterious environment – something out of Fellini – filled with symbolism, ritual, beauty, and also a disturbing kind of surreal imagery.” Tenneson earned her Masters degree in photography from George Washington University after starting as a model for Polaroid. She left her job as a photography professor at 39 and moved from Washington to New York. She shoots primarily with the Polaroid 20×24 camera.

Joyce Tenneson is among the most respected photographers of our time and has been described critically as “one of America’s most interesting portrayers of the human character.” Her work has been shown in over 150 exhibitions worldwide. Her photographs have appeared on countless covers for magazines such as Time, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Premiere, Esquire, and The New York Times Magazine. Tenneson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award, for best-applied photography. In addition, she has been named “Photographer of the Year” by the international organization Women in Photography. A recent poll conducted by American Photo Magazine voted Tenneson among the ten most influential women photographers in the history of photography. She currently splits her time between New York City and Maine.


  Maine Museum of Photographic Arts, Maine, US

  National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, George Town, KY

  Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University, US

  International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, St. Louis, US

Photography & Works