Monday, May 8, 2017

Artist Spotlight: Joyce Tenneson

“As a portraitist, I’m the opposite of the kind of photographer who stands back and says, ‘Let the person reveal himself.’ When I know there’s something inside, I try to bring it out. People tell me incredible secrets.” – Joyce Tenneson [1]


Joyce Tenneson was born in Boston in 1945, and grew up with her two sisters in Weston, Massachusetts where both of her parents worked on the grounds of a convent. In speaking about her early life and its influence on her as an artist, Tenneson said,


There is no question that the convent where my parents worked was the greatest inspiration. For me as a child, it was a mysterious environment...filled with symbolism, ritual, and beauty, and also a disturbing kind of surreal imagery…[The nuns] lived in a mysterious world of secrets that I longed to penetrate and uncover. So I watched. In a way, I became a voyeur, and this desire to observe everything has stayed with me.


As a child, her favorite book was The Secret Garden, which is very telling of her interests of finding the hidden inner self and their “incredible secrets” from early on, because to Tenneson, The Secret Garden is “the story of a hidden place where you could make things be the way you want them, if you could only find the key to get inside.”[2]


In high school, Tenneson was hired as a part-time model by Polaroid, which provided her an opportunity to become familiar with the photography business. After college, with a major in literature and a minor in art, she continued on to graduate school at George Washington University where she obtained a master’s degree with a concentration in photography and art history. Immediately after graduating, she began teaching at a community college in Washington D.C., and later as a professor at the Corcoran School of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.[3] During this time in the 1960s and 1970s, Tenneson took black-and-white photographs, and focused her camera on herself.[4] Part of what motivated Tenneson to take self-portraits was that, “It was the 1970s, a time of social upheaval and reevaluation. I was very much an activist. It was a time when the image of women was changing a lot … this sense of claiming your own identity was very new.” [5]


Joyce Tenneson, Self-Portrait with Mask, 1977. Gelatin 
silver print, 11 x 14 inches. GW Collection, Purchase.

In our current exhibition REFLECT, the photograph Self-Portrait with Mask (1977), comes from this period of her life when she was taking self-portraits while working in Washington, D.C. Her portrait appears three times throughout this photograph, but all three are secondary images of her face, while her real face is hidden. The photograph shows Tenneson with her back to the camera looking into a mirror, revealing her face to the viewer through a reflection. The second image is the painted white mask on the back of Tenneson’s head, which presumably is a mold of her own face. Collaged onto this mask is the third image, which is a small photograph of Tenneson. Why is she hiding? Which image is the more authentic Tenneson? She creates a need to see who she is, an impulse to touch her shoulder and turn her around, as if seeing her face may reveal more of a truth about her.


Although the subject and photographic techniques are different during this early period, what Tenneson calls her materials, “the fabric, the skin, and the light, and then the inner person I’m trying to reveal,” remain consistent throughout her career.[6] In Self-Portrait with Mask, these materials are very present, including the invisible “material” of her own inner person. She often uses veils or transparent materials in her portraits and self-portraits. Her interest in self-discovery continues even when she is taking portraits of others and revealing their inner selves, because as she observed, “I look like my work, I take that as a compliment. Metaphorically, I look like my work.”[7]


In 1983, after 15 years of living in Washington, D.C. and recently divorced, Tenneson moved to New York City where she began focusing more intently on her photography and also began photographing other people. She shot her photographs primarily using the Polaroid 20x24 camera, and started using color as well. Her first big success was her photograph of Suzanne in Chair, which first appeared on the cover of American Photo in 1986, and later was in her 1994 book Transformations.[8]


Throughout Tenneson’s career, her photographs have appeared on the covers of many magazines, including Time, Life, and Entertainment Weekly. Her portraits include notable figures such as Nancy Reagan and Sandra Day O’Connor, as well as the New York Yankees baseball team. She has published over 16 books of photography, and her 2002 book Wise Women was the New York Times best-selling photography book of the year.[9] Tenneson currently resides in Maine, and continues to give lectures and teach workshops.

By Maria Gorbaty, Gallery Assistant


See Self-Portrait with Mask (1977) in REFLECT: Photography Looking Forward, Looking Back at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery through July 7, 2017.

_____________
[1]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/style/1983/10/30/tenneson-portrait-of-the-photographer/e78dc5cc-affa-45d2-a75c-ec4fad2e0c10/?utm_term=.953eab7f7793
[2] http://www.tenneson.com/sites/default/files/press/Intro-Interview-Transformations-JT.pdf
[3] http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/tenneson/interview6.html
[4] http://www.bandwmag.com/articles/joyce-tenneson-spiritual-warrior
[5] Ibid.
[6] http://www.photoworkshop.com/artman/publish/interview_with_joyce_tenneson.shtml
[7] Ibid.
[8] http://www.nehomemag.com/the-insider/
[9] http://www.tenneson.com/content/bio

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Artist Spotlight: Joyce Tenneson

“As a portraitist, I’m the opposite of the kind of photographer who stands back and says, ‘Let the person reveal himself.’ When I know there’s something inside, I try to bring it out. People tell me incredible secrets.” – Joyce Tenneson [1]


Joyce Tenneson was born in Boston in 1945, and grew up with her two sisters in Weston, Massachusetts where both of her parents worked on the grounds of a convent. In speaking about her early life and its influence on her as an artist, Tenneson said,


There is no question that the convent where my parents worked was the greatest inspiration. For me as a child, it was a mysterious environment...filled with symbolism, ritual, and beauty, and also a disturbing kind of surreal imagery…[The nuns] lived in a mysterious world of secrets that I longed to penetrate and uncover. So I watched. In a way, I became a voyeur, and this desire to observe everything has stayed with me.


As a child, her favorite book was The Secret Garden, which is very telling of her interests of finding the hidden inner self and their “incredible secrets” from early on, because to Tenneson, The Secret Garden is “the story of a hidden place where you could make things be the way you want them, if you could only find the key to get inside.”[2]


In high school, Tenneson was hired as a part-time model by Polaroid, which provided her an opportunity to become familiar with the photography business. After college, with a major in literature and a minor in art, she continued on to graduate school at George Washington University where she obtained a master’s degree with a concentration in photography and art history. Immediately after graduating, she began teaching at a community college in Washington D.C., and later as a professor at the Corcoran School of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.[3] During this time in the 1960s and 1970s, Tenneson took black-and-white photographs, and focused her camera on herself.[4] Part of what motivated Tenneson to take self-portraits was that, “It was the 1970s, a time of social upheaval and reevaluation. I was very much an activist. It was a time when the image of women was changing a lot … this sense of claiming your own identity was very new.” [5]


Joyce Tenneson, Self-Portrait with Mask, 1977. Gelatin 
silver print, 11 x 14 inches. GW Collection, Purchase.

In our current exhibition REFLECT, the photograph Self-Portrait with Mask (1977), comes from this period of her life when she was taking self-portraits while working in Washington, D.C. Her portrait appears three times throughout this photograph, but all three are secondary images of her face, while her real face is hidden. The photograph shows Tenneson with her back to the camera looking into a mirror, revealing her face to the viewer through a reflection. The second image is the painted white mask on the back of Tenneson’s head, which presumably is a mold of her own face. Collaged onto this mask is the third image, which is a small photograph of Tenneson. Why is she hiding? Which image is the more authentic Tenneson? She creates a need to see who she is, an impulse to touch her shoulder and turn her around, as if seeing her face may reveal more of a truth about her.


Although the subject and photographic techniques are different during this early period, what Tenneson calls her materials, “the fabric, the skin, and the light, and then the inner person I’m trying to reveal,” remain consistent throughout her career.[6] In Self-Portrait with Mask, these materials are very present, including the invisible “material” of her own inner person. She often uses veils or transparent materials in her portraits and self-portraits. Her interest in self-discovery continues even when she is taking portraits of others and revealing their inner selves, because as she observed, “I look like my work, I take that as a compliment. Metaphorically, I look like my work.”[7]


In 1983, after 15 years of living in Washington, D.C. and recently divorced, Tenneson moved to New York City where she began focusing more intently on her photography and also began photographing other people. She shot her photographs primarily using the Polaroid 20x24 camera, and started using color as well. Her first big success was her photograph of Suzanne in Chair, which first appeared on the cover of American Photo in 1986, and later was in her 1994 book Transformations.[8]


Throughout Tenneson’s career, her photographs have appeared on the covers of many magazines, including Time, Life, and Entertainment Weekly. Her portraits include notable figures such as Nancy Reagan and Sandra Day O’Connor, as well as the New York Yankees baseball team. She has published over 16 books of photography, and her 2002 book Wise Women was the New York Times best-selling photography book of the year.[9] Tenneson currently resides in Maine, and continues to give lectures and teach workshops.

By Maria Gorbaty, Gallery Assistant


See Self-Portrait with Mask (1977) in REFLECT: Photography Looking Forward, Looking Back at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery through July 7, 2017.

_____________
[1]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/style/1983/10/30/tenneson-portrait-of-the-photographer/e78dc5cc-affa-45d2-a75c-ec4fad2e0c10/?utm_term=.953eab7f7793
[2] http://www.tenneson.com/sites/default/files/press/Intro-Interview-Transformations-JT.pdf
[3] http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/tenneson/interview6.html
[4] http://www.bandwmag.com/articles/joyce-tenneson-spiritual-warrior
[5] Ibid.
[6] http://www.photoworkshop.com/artman/publish/interview_with_joyce_tenneson.shtml
[7] Ibid.
[8] http://www.nehomemag.com/the-insider/
[9] http://www.tenneson.com/content/bio

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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