DPP Home Profiles Diane Cook And Len Jenshel: Master Of Doubling Up

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Diane Cook And Len Jenshel: Master Of Doubling Up

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel merge their photographic talents into a singular vision that serves both art and commerce


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The husband-and-wife photography team of Diane Cook and Len Jenshel work together to conceptualize images and to come up with an approach to a subject, yet in the end, they each produce bodies of work that are starkly different. Cook's distinct and austere black-and-white images contrast with Jenshel's color and visual irony. Above: The Mittens, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Ariz.


Photography has its share of artistic tag teams, from the Starn Twins to McDermott & McGough to Kahn & Selesnick. While these duos create distinctive images, it's impossible to parse each individual's contribution—to draw a dividing line through their work. Not so with Diane Cook and Len Jenshel. For 20 years, they've had things both ways. This husband-and-wife team has created highly regarded photographs under their shared byline, yet they've continued to produce their own, individual bodies of work. In fact, Cook and Jenshel have even convinced curators and editors to mix and match their images—Cook's an austere, cool-toned black-and-white; Jenshel's a descriptive but ironic color.


Great Basin National Park, Nev.
Yet when the two photographers create a single image as a team, which they ordinarily do in color, it's the subject of a dialogue to which each brings different strengths from start to finish. "Len is more methodical and I'm more intuitive," says Cook. This is surprising, given her previous career as a picture editor. "I'm also the researcher, finding the places to photograph. We discuss what will work best for locations, then Len steps in with his ability to sweet-talk people to get us the access we need."

What further distinguishes Cook and Jenshel from their two-person, fine-art counterparts is the success with which they've applied their team approach to editorial photography. Almost by accident, Jenshel found himself on the leading edge of the magazine world's early-1980s' discovery that art photography's ideas could also serve the purposes of editorial illustration. And the change could not have happened if it had not been for art photography's greater comfort with color (the magazine world's norm) and its postmodern inclination toward irony and deadpan description.

Still, the phenomenon took Jenshel by surprise. In 1983, he received a call out of the blue from Nina Subin, picture editor of The Sophisticated Traveler, a New York Times Magazine supplement. The visionary Subin was ahead of her time. She asked Jenshel to create photographs in the footsteps of the magazine's food writer who was exploring one great restaurant after another in Venice, Portofino and other Italian cities. Somehow Subin had learned that Cook and Jenshel planned to honeymoon in Italy.


Best Western Mammoth Hot Springs, Gardiner, Mont.
"I couldn't figure out how she even knew who I was, let alone how she found out where we were going on our honeymoon," Jenshel recalls. "I said, 'Well, this is my first trip to Europe, and it's my honeymoon, so while I'm very flattered you thought of me, I'm going to have to decline.'" Subin cajoled Jenshel, telling him she loved his work, that the story "needed his sensibility," that she wanted him to take his kind of pictures, and that he should discuss it with Diane and sleep on it.

When Cook came home that day from her job as a picture editor at Time Inc., he told her about the junket he had just turned down. Jenshel remembers, "Diane blurted out, 'Are you crazy? You turned down a plum assignment like that?'" The next day, Jenshel called Subin back and said, "I do," and the jobs have kept coming ever since.

Cook left her Time Inc. job in 1991, and she and Jenshel have been collaborating ever since. While garnering the fine-art world's top prizes, Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, one-couple shows at New York's International Center of Photography and Chicago's Art Institute, and sev-eral fine-art monographs (duographs?), including Aquarium (Aperture, 2003) and Hot Spots: America's Volcanic Landscapes (Bulfinch Press, 1996), they have done editorial photography for some of the magazine world's most esteemed publications. These include The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Travel + Leisure, Audubon, and current regulars Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic.

 

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