Sharon Johnson Tennant: Detritus: Fragments of Untold Stories
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to times relentless melt.” Susan Sontag
Sometimes what we leave behind shows us more about ourselves, our habits, and our pastimes that we realize. Our trash is a form of history, giving clues to our culture. Trash is the unfiltered truth about how a society lives. Photographer Sharon Johnson-Tennant has been considering this topic for years with her project Detritus: Fragments of Untold Stories. She traverses the coast line to discover humble and strange objects of human archaeology transformed by the sea, each revealing a journey through time and water. As Johnson states, “Nature is a powerful editor.”
Sharon Johnson-Tennant is is an artist living in Los Angeles, California, working in photography. She received a degree in Fine Arts from Skidmore College in New York and continued with graduate studies in Color Theory and the Science of Color at New York University.
During a twenty-year career in New York City in textile and fashion design, Sharon worked in dye labs, textile studios and manufacturing facilities worldwide. This background fine-tuned her eye in light, color and spatial design and allowed her to apply all these elements within a new visual context. After a move to Los Angeles, Sharon shifted her focus to photography.
Her practice examines the discourse of making the invisible visible and finding beauty in its details. Sharon’s photographs are held in private collections worldwide and have been exhibited internationally in galleries, shows, and juried exhibitions. Her work has been published by Sony Pictures, PDN Magazine, National Geographic Travel Magazine and Travel and Leisure. In addition, her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Fabrik, Artslant, Lenscratch, Clickblog Italy Canon and Clickblog France Nikon.
Sharon has won numerous awards including the Julia Margaret Cameron Award and the IPA International Photo Award.
She is represented by Robert Berman in Los Angeles, B-6 Gallery in San Francisco, and Art Project Paia in Maui.
Follow Sharon Johnson Tennant on Instagram: @sjohnsontennant
Detritus: Fragments of Untold Stories
Can we know a society by what it has left behind?
For over a decade, I have walked the same three mile stretch of beach in Los Angeles, a canvas bag slung over my shoulder, collecting cast-off and long forgotten fragments, burnished by the sea, rich in human stories, and beautiful in their eccentricity. Nature has a seminal way of transforming things. These objects are an odd amalgamation of natural and man-made discards, both living and dead. I am moved, inspired, and sometimes startled by their strange beauty. I am also painfully aware of their impact on the health of our oceans.
I cannot wait to walk that beach. I keep a tidal chart on my phone that I check daily, setting my alarm for sunrise. Searching has become a form of meditation for me – a mindful awareness of actively observing, seeking. I lose all sense of time and distance, rarely raising my eyes up from the sand. There is so much beauty in the abandoned. I would end my walks, frequently draped in seaweed, my bag filled with treasures.
I am a collector, a seeker, and on this journey, a cultural anthropologist.
There’s a societal narrative to the objects I gathered from the beach – they are a way of envisioning the city’s unique cultures through its detritus. Every object makes me wonder about a life lived. They hold untold stories – loved, worn, worshiped, abandoned, or lost. There are markers linking people to places, altered by living energy. Life and decay, love, and loss – all held together in circumstantial harmony.
Nature is a powerful editor.
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