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Photographs by Joyce Tenneson on View This Summer at the Portland Museum of Art

PORTLAND, ME.- Photographs by Joyce Tenneson, one of the country’s leading contemporary portrait photographers and Maine artist, will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art July 11 through October 4, 2009. Joyce Tenneson: Polaroid Portraits will feature 22 color and four black-and-white prints created by Tenneson during a 23-year period beginning in 1986.

Joyce Tenneson (born 1945) 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 is autobiographical and combines portraiture and mythology with a focus on uncovering the universal truths of human nature. The subjects in the exhibition range from young children to elderly men and women, from the divinely beautiful to the decidedly plump. Many of the more famous sitters include actors and actresses—Ben Kingsley, Jodi Foster, Salma Hayek, Jessica Tandy, Demi Moore—as well as artist Andrew Wyeth and singers Norah Jones and James Taylor.

The majority of the work in the exhibition is from Tenneson’s self-described “white period” during the mid-1980s. The powdered white models are encircled with layers of translucent fabrics and gauzes reflecting the ideas of concealment and revelation, privacy and self-exposure. These photographs feature ethereal-looking women with wings, women holding spheres of light, and women boldly celebrating their bodies before her lens. Many of these works were included in her book Transformations, in which Tenneson suggests that women have the power to change themselves. The idea of transformation can be seen most obviously in Suzanne with the Mirror. The image of Suzanne looks quite different from the face it reflects and refers to the unseen self within. Along with women, children also appear in her work. In Deanna & Stone Hand, a child calmly, disturbingly, holds a severed stone arm, suggesting that even those in the perfection of their youth may suffer. In Katie & Skirt, a child is pictured next to a transparent skirt that is much too big for her and stands on its own as if to say that when she grows into it, adulthood will give her no more cover.

Joyce Tenneson is in many ways a modern-day version of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879). These two artists share a love of celebrity portraits and grand allegorical themes, of costume and fantasy, and an obsession with concepts of feminine beauty. The Tenneson show coincides with the Museum’s second-floor exhibition “For My Best Beloved Sister Mia”: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, on view July 4 through September 7. The exhibition will be accompanied by the color catalogue, with an essay by photographic historian and critic Vicki Goldberg entitled “A Kinship Across Centuries,” which explores the close relationship between Tenneson and Cameron’s portraiture.

Joyce Tenneson divides her time between New York City and Rockport, Maine, where she teaches at the Maine Media Workshops. Her work has been shown in more than 200 exhibitions worldwide and is part of numerous private and museum collections. Her photographs have appeared on countless magazine covers including Time, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Premiere, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine. She is a much sought-after portrait photographer with clients in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Tenneson is the author of 13 books and 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 poll conducted by American Photo Magazine voted Tenneson among the 10 most influential women photographers in the history of photography

Portland Museum of Art | Ben Kingsley | Jodi Foster | Salma Hayek | Jessica Tandy | Demi Moore | Andrew Wyeth | Norah Jones | James Taylor. |

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