I stopped by Richard Remsen’s Foundry in Rockport, a quintessential collection of New England style barns, an old farmhouse, rolling fields and a gallery filled with glass lures in various stages of completion. The sculptor’s retreat provided the perfect backdrop for a handful of lanky, otherworldly looking models running around the property like woodland sprites striking poses for a diverse group of photographers enrolled in Joyce Tenneson’s Portrait Workshop.
“I want to capture movement. Can you try spinning?” Lisa directed the tall, thin brunette wearing torn, fashionably ripped jeans, complimented with silver metallic gladiator sandals and topped off with a cropped tank. The photographer, a painter and sculptor from San Francisco Bay Area, explained she was interested in capturing the spirit connection of her subjects.
Joyce called out it was 2:30 p.m. and that it was time to rotate. On cue, each group of three found a different location and model to photograph, choosing between the brunette, a set of strawberry blonde identical twins on their way to Bates and Wesleyan in the fall, and a young Jamaican man working in Camden for the summer.
While composing their shots, Joyce coached her students on perfecting composition, light, and ways to get below the surface of the model to their essence, their soul, so that the photographs would reveal a psychological dimension of being human. She asks her class, “How do you open them up? Communicate and collaborate.”
“The workshops give me the chance for total immersion,” shared Ed from Boston. “I’m living, breathing, and sleeping photography. I mean Joyce—we all hope some of it will rub off. Joyce is thorough, professional and getting a critique from her, she’s pointing out stuff like catch lights, saying that without that twinkle in the eye, the portrait is dead.”
Back on campus the next day, I sought out Joyce’s class again at lunch. They looked like the “fun table” as they sat and ate, thoroughly enjoying themselves, talking, laughing, and comparing notes. I sat next to Lisa, the sculptor and painter from the San Francisco Bay Area, and she introduced me to her teenage daughter Rachel, creative in her own right as a burgeoning cellist and writer.
For them, attending workshops had become a family affair. Years ago, Lisa’s father and mother took a class with Ernest Haas, the pioneer color photographer. Then Lisa came back with her father to take a class. Now she was sharing the experience with her daughter.
“En lieu of Greece or Italy, I thought this would be an amazing place for us to experience together,” said Lisa. “At first Rachel wasn’t interested, but I told her she could document her other interests with photography. In our IPhone culture, media is so important.”
“I didn’t know this place existed. I have grown so much since I’ve been here. There are lots of artsy young people, and to be around Joyce, someone of that caliber,” Rachel added. “I didn’t understand photography as an art form before. Now taking photographs makes me believe that everything is art if I want to make it art. As an artist, getting a grasp of yet another medium will add to my repertoire, which I can use to express the things I want to express.”
After lunch, we all head back to Remsen’s Foundry, more statuesque models, not all of them completely dressed or dressed at all. I sat down in a comfy, cushy outdoor rocking sofa set along a barn wall. Maria, a neonatologist, sat down with me for a short break from shooting. Maria and her son Drew had driven to Maine together from their home in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I got into photography years ago before my son was born. I took pictures of him, then I did some documentary work at spaghetti dinners,” she added with a wry smile. “It was Drew’s idea to come here together. I think this is his fourth time at the Workshops. I’d been looking at the catalogs for years, and he said I should take a class with him this summer,” Maria explained.
When I asked Maria how the experience has been for her, she said, again with that same smile, “It’s exhausting! I’m so left sided. The right side of my brain is being stressed, so Drew came to my room last night and helped me pick photos.” Then she looks down, thinks a moment, and in a more serious tone of voice added, “Joyce is awesome. She’s self-effacing, extremely talented and gifted but approachable, positive and patient. She demonstrates how to engage models and get something out of them. The things I’ve learned here, I would have never figured out on my own.”
After Joyce called it a wrap for the day, and the team took a group photo, I finally pried myself from the comfy chair and walked around the property till I found Drew, who was packing up his gear. I told him I had chatted with his mom, and wanted to ask him about his experience at Maine Media, getting the mother-son angle of the story.
“I attended two summer residencies here in 2008 and 2009. I loved it so much that I wanted my mom to experience the same—that feeling you get in Maine when immersed in the workshops—especially now that I’m older, and we actually get along,” he said. “She was worried about being in the same class, but I don’t mind. I liked helping her pick out her photos, but my fear is not to interfere with her choice too much so she grows as a photographer. I asked her what she likes, why it works and why it doesn't, so she could develop her eye as an artist. Not everyone is going to like your work, and that’s fine. It’s kind of a role reversal for us!”
Drew, who is a full-time web designer and professional photographer back home, then switched gears to discuss his style and intentions for taking Joyce’s class.
“I want to shoot portraiture in a photojournalistic style. I love people. People are expressive. Landscapes are beautiful too, but to me if I look at beautiful landscape shot, I think but where are the people? Joyce develops a connection with her subjects. Her photos are very intimate, and that’s what I want to bring to my portraits. She’s helping me to know if I’m actually engaged with the subject and if the photo is engaging. I had a good grasp before, but I’m better now. She describes my style as edgy, and likes that I push the envelope.”
After talking with her students, I found Joyce back at the studio. She shared that she really loved this class in particular, the diversity in age, students from 17 to 75, a balance between men and women. “We all got along,” she commented. “What was particularly interesting were the mother-son, and the mother-daughter combinations. The class was very much enriched by having these two younger members. It’s inspiring to see new ways of viewing something. They think out of the box, and that gave us cross-fertilization of ideas for the entire class.”
Next time you come to Maine Media Workshops, bring you son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. Make it a family affair will also allow you to receive a 10 percent discount for each additional person attending a workshop from the same immediate family. Click here for details about our family and other discounts available at MMW.
– Jennifer Cook, 2014 MMW+C PC Graduate in Visual Storytelling