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Pro Perspectives: Joyce Tenneson


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BY PhotoVideoEDU staff November 01, 2009 · Published by PhotoVideoEDU

Joyce Tenneson talks to PhotoVideoEDU about her distinctive style, the importance of a formal education, and what she looks for in an intern.



  • Fine art and portrait photographer



  • George Washington University, BFA and Masters in Photography

PhotoVideoEDU: Your work speaks for itself. You have your own unique style. One can almost thumb through a book and say, “Wow that’s a Tenneson shot.” Where did that come from?

Joyce Tenneson: Well, I think that every artist of any note has a signature style and I see it as a thumbprint of the artist, so that an Avedon thumbprint would be different than a Mapplethorpe thumbprint, that would be different from a Tenneson thumbprint. All that comes from, I think, the way we were brought up: our cultural heritages, our family backgrounds, the time that we were living in—you know, all of those forces that make you who you are as a unique person.

PhotoVideoEDU: How did you get started? How did you become what you are today?

Joyce Tenneson: I guess I was always interested in art history and in reading, and I think, maybe, in people first of all. Photography allows you an incredible access to meeting people and getting to know them, especially portrait photography. I think that’s really what the hook was for me.

PhotoVideoEDU: Is a formal education important?

Joyce Tenneson: Absolutely essential, but the degree is just the beginning. Young photographers really need to plan an internship of between two and three months with a photographer who’s working in a field that they particularly like, and observe the inner workings of a real studio.

PhotoVideoEDU: What do you look for when you talk to people that want to intern for you?

Joyce Tenneson: Must haves: technical, digital abilities; studio lighting abilities; and creative abilities. I want somebody who has a lot of common sense and somebody who can think on their feet, who’s a fast learner, a problem solver with common sense. They should have a vivacious personality, or, if they’re shy, they have some other skill that identifies them . . . personality skill. I look for different things in different people—something over and above what you get in a curriculum.

PhotoVideoEDU: Have any advice for aspiring photographers?

Joyce Tenneson: I would say to them to choose the field that they really feel passionate about in photography. To be great in anything takes a real commitment of time and energy, and it really is not possible without a passion for it.

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