An unending passion to continue to photograph is one of the things that makes Tessa Traeger a contemporary Heroine. Now in her 80s, she has led a fascinating life; from the 60s, when clients would ask her, “When is the photographer arriving?”, to sharing images from her second home in North Devon on Instagram. Having come from a creative family, it was her sister who suggested photography could be her thing and this led to her future career.
Tessa is most noted for her still-life food photography, spending 16 years with British Vogue working in collaboration with food writer Arabella Boxer. She began this role following the early death of her husband, photographer Ronald Traeger, who died aged 31. More recently, some of her evocative black-and-white landscapes of North Devon’s darker seasons, taken since she moved to the Torridge area with her second husband Patrick Kinmonth in the 80s, culminated in a book, Wild World. Tessa also has a love of gardens and photographing people. This is borne out in her portraits of traditional hill farmers living in South West France, and also a commission by the National Portrait Gallery to photograph 50 of the most well-known horticulturalists in the UK. However, her style is not linear; subjects such as dance and decaying glass plate negatives also feature, inspiring exhibitions and books.
Tessa’s photography is not only significant in relation to contemporary living but also through her consideration of other art forms, her long-term planning of images, and the transient nature of her subject matter. Tessa naturally works in a way that – despite her association with still-life photography – is the opposite of still. She has no desire to stop being a photographer, as she told the Evening Standard’s Patricia Nicol in 2019; “Being a photographer is so much more fun than not being a photographer.”