Karyn Teno: A true Renaissance woman

  • Karyn Teno finds inspiration for her photography primarily at Norris Dam State Park. Her daughter, Leah (above), is often the subject of her photography, but she also features landscapes familiar to those in Anderson County. Her work has been featured nationally by Apple — this photo was featured on a billboard. - Karyn Teno

  • - Karyn Teno

  • Karyn and Trippy Teno’s children are the center of her universe — that’s evident in her music and photography. - Karyn Teno

Karyn Teno is a true Renaissance woman. She’s the matriarch of the bluegrass-playing Teno family and a successful, creative person on her own. She sings, she plays guitar, she homeschools and, along with her husband Trippy, is raising four successful children.

And she’s a darn good photographer.

A couple of years ago, to the chagrin of her children, she discovered Instagram. Already a photographer hobbyist, her children knew that if she got into Instagram, she would get even more obsessed.

“They were right,” she laughed.

Teno drew inspiration from her father, who was also a photography lover. He would give her cameras as gifts back when instant cameras were just becoming a thing.

For her high school graduation, he gave her a big film camera.

All that was great and kept her creative fire going, but it was really Instagram that shifted things for her.

Teno uses the handle @reason_to_sing on Instagram and has over 42,000 followers.

Instagram is a social media platform that features photos, usually captioned. The platform will sometimes highlight individual users, and Teno has been featured twice.

She uses only her iPhone.

“It’s a great platform,” she said. “It’s such a great thing.”

It’s a big deal to be featured and very rare — many users who have been featured used it as a major resume boost to land high end jobs.

But that was only the beginning.

Teno joined a few photography contests hosted by photographer Josh Johnson. His group is called the JJ Community and has nearly 600,000 followers.

Inside the group, photographers share their best work under a daily theme. Teno was highlighted many times, leading to her work being featured at a museum in Las Vegas.

“It’s still there,” she said, although she’s never been to see it in person.

Only 10 other photographers were selected to have their work displayed.

Her beautiful images are captioned with equally beautiful short sayings. “Blushing beauty,” reads one of a group of white oaks on an autumn morning. “Pause and reflect on the world around us,” reads another that features her daughter, Leah.

Leah is a frequent model in many of her pictures.

She remembers Jane Kirk, a friend of hers, showing her the back cover of Time magazine. It was an Apple ad that showcased photography created with just an iPhone.

At the time, the ad campaign was promoting the stunning camera included in the phones. Then, about a year later, Apple contacted her.

“I don’t know how they found me, but they did,” she said. “I had several pictures chosen to be on the billboard campaign.”

She ended up with a number of other opportunities, but while all that was going on, another side project was steadily growing: her family’s band.

That all started about six years ago, when her son Andy started playing banjo. Teno and Trippy are both very musical — they met at Disney World, where they both worked as musicians. They never pushed music on their kids, but it happened anyway. Teno picked up guitar to accompany Andy, and then Trippy picked up base. It had a domino effect: the kids added mandolin and fiddle to their repertoire and POOF, they had a band.

The Tenos perform five or six times a month, on top of a regular appearance at the Museum of Appalachia and churches.

They plan to audition for Dollywood in January.

All the kids have their own interests. Leah, 22, works at the Museum of Appalachia’s kitchen and loves making cakes. Will, 23, also works at the museum and is a blacksmith. Andy, 17, and Sam, 14, are still homeschooled.

While her photography has taken a back seat to everything else, she still posts beautiful scenery on Instagram regularly. She might sell prints one day. She may publish a book. She might blog about photography.

But right now, she’s happy living a beautiful, authentic, creative, busy life with her favorite people.