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Life, Curated

In Conversation with 20 Photos Founder Jo Tennant
Written by Harriet Osborne

Jo Tennant is an award-winning photographer and founder of 20 Photos, a creative service that curates hundreds of digital photos into 20 beautiful fine-art prints. In conversation from her studio in Portobello, Edinburgh, we find out about the photos that stop her in her tracks, how she tells a story without words, and why we should celebrate life’s important moments in prints that we can feel, hold, and share.

‘Often you don’t realise how important a moment was until you look back at it,’ Jo Tennant tells me from her studio on the coast outside Edinburgh, surrounded by tubes of prints. ‘Having seen thousands of camera rolls, humans clearly have an innate understanding of this and a desire to preserve these moments for the future.’

Jo is an award-winning photographer and the founder of 20 Photos, a creative service that edits and curates hundreds of digital photos into 20 beautiful prints on fine-art paper. ‘Photos on our phones are important because they are about all of life’s moments,’ she says. ‘But unless you sieve out the dross, it’s too overwhelming to appreciate and enjoy them. There is something special about taking that vast camera roll and paring it down into something personal, tactile, and special that you can feel, hold, and share.’

For Jo, 20 Photos is a space for each person’s life story. ‘It’s the opposite of Instagram because this is about the personal moments rather than the ones you want to show off about,’ she says. ‘20 Photos is not seeking external validation. It’s celebrating your personal story away from a screen.’

Jo first had the idea for 20 Photos while searching through her own digital archives at the height of lockdown in 2020. ‘There was no photography work and I wanted to find another outlet for my photography and creativity,’ she says. So, over the next 100 days, she committed to creating something meaningful with her own family photos by editing, curating, and printing them.

Jo shortlisted hundreds of images down to 20 and made experimental books and prints to display around her house. ‘From my experience, a portfolio with 20 images is short enough for the brain to process and long enough to tell a story. That is what I aim to do with each set of photos I receive,’ she explains. It was only when Jo started talking to people that she realised how many of us have thousands of photos gathering digital dust. Some of her friends hadn’t done anything with their photos for over a decade.

Life, Curated

The first part of the 20 Photos process is about discovering what’s important for someone to remember from a set of photos. ‘It’s personal to each client,’ she says. ‘I’m here to offer a professional perspective, uncovering the hidden value in the images and bring out their best – not to dictate the narrative.’ Photos that stop Jo in her tracks are ones that tell a story without words. ‘I look for unposed moments of joy – the big belly laughs, proper hugs, and a backlit group of friends skinny dipping in the sea with their arms and water spray in the air,’ she says. ‘Those moments are magic.’

Jo has always been drawn to capturing moments of human connection. She came second in the Scottish Portrait Awards in 2019 for her photos of adventurer Lindsey Cole and a group of women running into the sea on the eve of International Women’s Day. ‘There was so much joy and celebration from the images,’ she says. ‘It was a feeling of exhilaration and connection between women who didn’t know each other.’

Jo is driven by freezing a moment in time for future generations to enjoy. ‘Something I want to encourage clients to do is write stories on the back of their photos. My mum gave me all of our family photos. One was a small black-and-white print of horses tied up in the desert, tiny figures silhouetted and two pyramids on the horizon. On the back, the anonymous photographer had written, “A view of the pyramids 12 ½ miles away whilst in action against Bedouin tribesmen.” It helped me, 80 years later, to have a glimpse into the context of the image.

‘One of my most treasured photos was taken during a dog walk with my dad when I was 10 years old. He taught me how to adjust the shutter speed on an SLR camera so I could photograph my dogs jumping over a pile of logs. My dad died a few years later, so having these photos connects me to some of the best memories we created of sharing, learning, and understanding something together.

‘In those moments, we don’t always recognise how vital those images are. In fact, we never do. But now they’re incredibly precious to me and I’m so glad I have them printed. Doing the same for others – weaving a story from life’s important moments, big and small – has become a lifelong passion.’

20 Photos // @20photos_curated
Harriet Osborne // @harrietosborne //



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