New York City to Rockport, Maine
Joyce Tenneson was one of the first successful female commercial photographers in New York City, at a time when the industry was still dominated by men. She is a woman who has never backed down from a challenge; using all of her talent, charisma and drive to rise to fame in the competitive world of photography. Joyce got her first big break while working as a model on a campaign for Polaroid. When she saw the final images from the shoot she told the client that she could create a more compelling campaign if given the chance and they let her do it. Her tireless work ethic, signature style and amazing ability to connect with people have helped her bust down many doors closed to women in photography, even landing an Absolut Tenneson ad in the 90s that highlighted the signature ethereal style that made her famous. Joyce has intentionally slowed down her commercial work since moving to the country, but her fine art and teaching careers are flourishing. Joyce’s work hangs in museums and galleries all over the world, she has published over a dozen books, been on the New York Times best seller list and has received many awards and accolades for her intimate, spiritual and ethereal work. In 2008, after 25 years in NYC she decided to hit the refresh button and move to the tiny coastal community of Rockport, home to the Maine Media Workshops. Joyce has helped breathe new life into the photography school and has used her resources and connections to mentor many young photographers looking to follow in her footsteps. Unlike most photographers who have reached a high-level of success, she is approachable and giving with her time. Joyce is a perfect example of someone who has found her inner peace and enlightenment living away from the distractions of the city, and that calm and change in environment has translated into her work. Joyce’s last body of work “Trees and the Alchemy of Light” was shot within ten miles of her house in Maine. Although the pace is slower in Maine, she has not let that slow her down. (Click here to jump to her interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
I really decided to make the move because my partner of twenty years passed away. We had our apartment together in Chelsea for those twenty years, and they were fabulous years, and I decided that I didn’t want to try to repeat that. I wanted to carve out a new life for myself and that’s why I decided to move to Maine and I’m so thrilled that I did.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
Do I want to go back full time – no. I lived 25 years in NYC and I was out of touch many days with my soul and that is a very high price to pay. I love the country and the city equally. So for me, the ideal scenario is a home in the country, so I can be close to nature and the inspiration I get from that quiet and beauty, with trips to urban locations every season or several times a year.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
From my point of view it is such a positive experience for many reasons. Obviously the beauty of nature, but beyond that, I believe that you get to know people better in the country. People have more time to devote to relationships and friendships. When I lived in New York City, I almost never went to anyone’s apartment for dinner; we met in restaurants or bars. Although I loved that on one level, it’s wonderful to be able to go over to somebody’s apartment or house in the country and see who they are, how they live and what they surround themselves with. I love just being able to just hang out around their dinner table, without the noise of a restaurant. My friends in New York were all so busy, we had big overheads to maintain and thus we had no time. Also, none of us had cars so just noodling over wasn’t an option. You’d have to get on the subway and it was always a big ‘to do’ just to hang out. The country really is such a positive place to live and to cultivate lasting and intimate relationships.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Walking around NYC and just looking at the window displays, absorbing a different kind of beauty. It's not nature but the windows are so of full of ideas and creativity that it’s a real jolt to me, creatively.
Second, watching people, as they are walking along, their different clothing and their energy. I miss the multiculturalism of large urban areas. I love being on my former block in NYC, which is the FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) block. Seeing all these students from all over the world with different styles, colors and crazy hairstyles, wearing their own creations. They are always so eccentric and outside-the-box. It just felt so free on that block. I felt so dazzled just walking to subway. I really loved that energy. I love being around urban people, for balance. To feel the energy of those who chose to be in a type-A space.
Last, I love going to the museums and galleries. To me a trip to the MET, even if I’m not attending a show, just strolling through and having a drink on the rooftop in the good weather, it’s just divine.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
By people and my surroundings first and then meditation is inspiration number two. I get a lot of my ideas for new projects or photo series by just being quiet. It doesn’t take long, because I have been practicing so long, I can feel a different frequency. It takes two minutes to calm myself and I’m taken to an inspired place. And that is something that has always fed my work. It’s not something that I always do or need to do to feel inspired, but it’s simply a tool, and I appreciate that it is all about being in the present.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
My work has changed enormously. When I lived in New York City, I loved photographing people from all over the world and my work was 95% people. Now that I am in the country I have had more time and opportunity to study and photograph nature. My last large body of work was a study of trees within a 10-mile radius of my house. It was really inspiring to actually be able to work on such an intimate level with things that I see everyday.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Now that I’m in the country, I think my greatest inspiration is the harbor outside my windows. There is an intimate atmosphere in small harbors that is not present when you look out at the vastness of the ocean. The vastness is a different energy. I think the ocean vastness is more male, in the traditional sense; it is more heroic, wild and strong. This harbor is intimate and every time of the day, the light changes. There is daily inspiration I find just looking out at the light over the harbor – it’s my nirvana. During the magic hour, the whites on the boats are incandescent, almost as if somebody lit them from inside; this is a daily thrill, like a sound and light show just for me. I am an intimast and all my portraits have been about intimacy, so this intimate harbor really does feed my soul.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
My wish for next year is to become even more present on a day-to-day basis. It is a very hard thing to quiet down enough to be present and to appreciate each day fully but I am working on it. That has been my New Year's resolution for several years and it is so hard to do, but it is working. It is a slow build because I still get wound up in all of my lists.