"Photographer with a benevolent lens." These words were engraved onto a plaque in the Birmingham City Hall to describe the professional career of Laurie Tennent, this year's recipient of the Birmingham Bloomfield Cultural Arts Award.
Tennent was honored for her achievements as a renowned art/commercial photographer as well as her impact on the community. A community coalition of The Community House, The Birmingham Bloomfield Cultural Council, the Birmingham Eccentric and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center co-sponsor this annual award.
"This title humbles me to be recognized for my involvement with different organizations… The award means that I'm doing work that matters, and at the end of the day, that's what's important to me," said Tennent, owner of Laurie Tennent Studio. "Being a photographer allows me to be the witness to so much joy and heartache. Capturing it on film brings awareness to the community and hopefully results in change and encouragement."
Over the years, Tennent has found meaningful ways to use her photography talents to touch the lives of others. She has supported Kids Kicking Cancer by donating time to do portraits of families with children during treatments, an experience she describes as "beyond words."
"Meeting these little warriors and watching them learn martial arts and meditation as means to cope with their disease as well as following them--sometimes to the end, while other times through recovery is profound," she said.
Tennent also volunteers with ArtROAD to bring art classes to kids in Detroit. Other organizations she has supported through her services include Far Conservatory, Haven, Lighthouse, Midwest AIDS Project and the Pink Fund.
What makes Tennent such an extraordinary photographer is her ability to balance her involvement with local non-profit organizations with her professional career as an internationally acclaimed photographer. Her work has been included in private and public collections around the world, including a recent purchase by Beaumont Hospital of 14 works, and her wedding and fashion photos have been published in The Knot, Hour Magazine, Style, Styline, Downtown Magazine, Photo District News and Town and Country.
"It is a challenge to balance commercial work with your own artwork, as well as balancing owning y our own business with having a family," she admitted. "I love what I do, but have to work at creating down time… I'm fortunate that I've been able to raise a healthy family and travel around the world doing what I'm passionate about."
Recently, Tennent's work was featured in a solo show in Paris, where she was described as "a photographer who is conscious of the current preoccupations in society, the environment, nature close up and from afar, from the most simplistic and fragile occurrences." During Detroit Focus 2000, Tennent's series of botanical images, "Still Life," was shown alongside the images of Linda McCartney and Olivia Parker.
"Botanicals is an ongoing series that I developed to take the work off the gallery wall and back into nature," she explained. "The work was exhibited at ArtPrize (2011 and 2012), Artscape on the Riverfront in Detroit, Planterras Greenhouse, Kidd Gallery and the Winter in Bloom project scheduled at Cranbrook House for January 31, 2014. As part of this exhibit, I photographed samples from Cranbrook's gardens over the past year. My goal with the Botanicals series is to work with botanical gardens worldwide to create an exhibition including books and products to help fund gardens and other philanthropic organizations."
While reflecting on her career, Tennent fondly recalls how her experiences with special mentors and professors at CCS continue to impact her work today.
"What I loved about CCS was the fact that I was working in my major from Year One."
“Photography was infused into all of my other classes. You learn to talk about your work and you learn from other students through critiques. I value those experiences. And having the DIA in your front yard is incredible.
"Bill Rauhauser had a profound influence on me. He showed us what it was like to be totally submerged in your passion--to never settle on one series of work, to push the boundaries of photography as a medium. Another professor, Walter Farynk, used to say, 'The more I shoot, the luckier I get!' How true…
"Critiques were also beneficial to me as a student, especially those from Doug Aikenhead. He'd really make you think about the choices you made in your work. My exploration into big, bold color grew out of John Ganis's class.
“Although were going to college for art degrees, it’s important not to forget we were developing a career in order to make money. Learning the business aspects of being an artist are very important in order to facilitate your passion for your art. The most important thing my mentor Balthazar Korab taught me was to not think of myself only as an artist but a business woman. He'd say, 'We can't be starving artists. We love food too much!'
"That being said, I want to stress to aspiring artists that it is critical to follow your passion. If the work doesn't inspire you, choose something else. Life is a work of art, make it abstract.”
In addition to her fine art and commercial work, Tennent has served as president of Michigan Friends of Photography for ten years and led photography courses and workshops throughout metro Detroit. She is currently president of the Birmingham Bloomfield Cultural Council and Ambassador of the Year for the Birmingham Chamber. To view more of Tennent’s work, visit http://www.laurietennentstudio.com/