The Tenuous Stem
The poignancy and promise of the life cycle informs Janet Russek’s long term photographic project, The Tenuous Stem. She began this work expressing sadness over loss, while noting the possibility of new life carried by a seed or a stem. In 1989, Eliot Porter—her mentor and friend—gave her a monorail camera. The camera was too unwieldy for anything but studio work, and although she has always worked with 4 x 5 cameras, she set up still lifes for the first time in 1993 to use it.
Utilizing only natural light she started photographing ripe squashes, peaches , and pears, alluding to the fullness of pregnancy. She then worked with vegetables and roots, and finally, the maturing plant, whose lush ripeness harbors will spiral into decomposition and decay. In subsequent years, Russek has expanded the project to include portraits of dolls that explore the darker, more psychological side of childhood and parenting, and a memory series that includes photos of significant personal objects that harken to the past, and take this volume full circle—like the life cycle itself.