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Taking Shape

This article was written by Jeanine Matlow and was featured in our April issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article, click here.


Early in her career, Birmingham, Michigan-based photographer and artist Laurie Tennent did commercial work for clients like Crate and Barrel and Ford Motor Company. She also had a wedding and portrait business while maintaining her art practice and gallery showings. Her current focus, which captures nature in all its glory with dramatic botanical images, allowed her to switch gears. “I did commercial art, but now I throw my concentration into my art world,” she says. “Still, if someone asked me to shoot a [wedding] weekend in Italy, I’d probably do it.”

Photography provided by Laurie Tennent.

“ . . . I loved science and chemistry and the darkroom. I love shapes and geometry and everything in nature. It was kind of like becoming a botanist backward . . . ”

Tennent, who earned a Fine Arts degree from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, owns Laurie Tennent Studio and Laurie Tennent Botanicals. “Photographing botanicals came out of a love for science,” she explains. “I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved science and chemistry and the darkroom. I love shapes and geometry and everything in nature. It was kind of like becoming a botanist backward.”

She thought her original botanical photos that were matted behind glass did not seem approachable enough. “People felt separate from them,” she says. Seeing Dale Chihuly’s glass exhibition at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona offered a fresh perspective. “His glass was right in the garden,” says Tennent who decided to enlarge her images and do the same. “The black background really popped, and I started working with a lab for polychrome on aluminum.”

Tennent likes to keep glass off the substantial images (mostly forty inches by sixty inches or larger) and she offers a limited edition of each one. “I bring the specimen into my studio and the image is fused into metal with an electrostatic process. Then they can be mounted in the garden,” she says. Nature serves as the perfect muse. “It could be a little piece of clover that you step on that has this presence and demands this attention. I just have this pause and gratitude for the beauty all around us,” adds Tennent.

Her vivid images have appeared around the world, and she also works with botanical gardens across the country where she might photograph a species like water lilies at a makeshift studio. Some installations are permanent, while others are seasonal. “We can put these botanicals back in the garden, so when they’re not in bloom, people can say, ‘Oh, that’s what they would look like,’” she says.

Her piece “Parrot Tulips” is part of a permanent collection at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Other works can be found at the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda, Florida and the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, where she was commissioned to photograph specimens from their collection for permanent installations.

Collectors around the world also display her images in their homes. Products—including her colorful book Botanicals: Intimate Portraits and decorative accents such as totes and trays—are sold at museum gift shops and via her website (www.laurietennentbotanicals.com).

Sometimes her past and present worlds merge. “You never know all the people you meet, like Julianne Smith, who is the US Ambassador to NATO. I shot her wedding years ago, and when she started her position in Brussels, she put artwork there from Michigan artists through the Art in Embassies program.” Now botanical images by Tennent are in Truman Hall, the residence of the Ambassador, and some were later installed in the gardens where they offer comfort and joy in nature.

“She can take a meditative pause at the end of the day,” says Tennent of Smith. “Art does that; it distracts us to remind us of the bigger picture.”