It’s a cloudy, colorless fall day when I meet up with Tenny Rudolph at That Poor Girl Vintage, a distinctly offbeat secondhand clothing store in Jacksonville’s St. Nicholas neighborhood. Like Rudolph’s photography, the interior of That Poor Girl—with its orange-and-green, tufted-plush-velvet couches, colored lighting, and racks of retro gowns and blouses of nylon, rayon, and other synthetic fabrics of bygone eras—offers a busy juxtaposition to the idle sidewalks and grey skies outside.
Rudolph’s earned notoriety of late, fashioning hyper-stylized shoots—often using clothing or furniture from That Poor Girl—that present young people of color in traditional poses. Rudolph’s photographs are vibrant and elegant, and much like the paintings of Kehinde Wiley or the fabric sculptures of Nick Cave, blur the lines between contemporary and traditional modes of representation.
“From the beginning of my photography career, I always wanted to showcase the youth,” Rudolph tells me. “We don’t get to see beautiful, young, people of color enough here in Jacksonville. That’s just what I’m about.”
Rudolph started shooting in 2016 and was mentored by Jacksonville photographer Hakeem Summers. Of the artists that inspired him early on, Rudolph mentions fellow Jax lensman Khalil Osborne and the fine art photographer Myles Loftin, noting the nostalgic feelings invoked by their work.
Wearing a Cousteau-style beanie, silver earrings and nose-ring, and a baggy t-shirt tucked neatly into blue jeans cuffed halfway up his hightop Doc Martens, Rudolph’s personal style is as much an amalgamation of eras as his photographs. He shoots primarily on film, using a Canon A-1 camera he guesses is from the 1980s. He uses colored bulbs—often red—to light his subjects, who he dresses in a mix of casual and formal styles not en vogue since the Carter and Reagan administrations. There’s certainly a vintage (to borrow a much-overused phrase) quality to the photos. Yet, presented without context, Rudolph’s work would be nearly impossible to timestamp.
“I really like the fashion and the colors of the 70s and 80s,” he says “I watch a lot of Pose [the FX dance-musical series set in 80s NYC] and a lot of that style just speaks to me.”
In early November, Rudolph opened his first solo exhibition, In My Head. The show followed a summer in which he did commercial shoots for apparel and footwear mega-brands Converse and Adidas, and was contracted to shoot a series of photographs for Getty Images called Redefining Masculinity. If his workload of late doesn’t sound spasmodic enough, Rudolph’s creative process sounds equally as impulsive.
“Usually with my shoots, we plan something and it doesn’t quite work out. So then we go somewhere else and it ends up working,” Rudolph says, laughing. Though he makes moodboards and scouts locations, the images he manifests aren’t always what he conceived prior to releasing the shutter on his Canon A-1.
“He’s very emotional and sometimes can’t find the words to describe what’s in his head,” says Tori Poor, who owns That Poor Girl and is a creative collaborator of Rudolph’s on occasion. “He’ll pace around the shop, lay on the floor, move to the couch, touch all of the clothes on the racks one-by-one, and then—all the sudden—the light goes on.”
“Inside my head, it’s not always that cohesive,” Rudolph admits. “I like using things that are a bit random to make something that looks fully realized.”
This feature originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Void Magazine.
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