Photographer and poet Rob Tennent on rediscovering life, sex and love

Opening up on life after assault, 'Come Back to Bed' is a powerful new book exploring Tennent's most intimate experiences.

Cambodian-born, raised between St Lucia and Papua New Guinea, and settling in New Zealand, Rob Tennent has taken his generation by storm. An all-time creative hybrid, sometimes model who is currently training in fashion, he has recently released a book that explores the inner rediscovery of life after a sexual assault”, entitled Come Back to Bed. The book features an anonymous collection of photographs, capturing all the lovers he’s been intimate with since he rediscovered love and sex.

For Robert Tennent, finding his feet again in the sexual facet of life was a steady process, one which is an “all-round fresh experience”. Tennent takes us on a visceral and personal journey through his recovery, characterised by sex and lust after a chosen period of abstinence. Documenting every sexual experience post-celibacy, the images and poems in Come Back to Bed create an utterly powerful book which allows Tennent to find himself and also reach out to others. Notably, 20% of the profits will be donated to Rape Prevention Education. We meet the photographer and poet to talk rediscovery and creativity…

Hi Rob, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a 20-year-old half Vietnamese and half European artist. I’m currently living in Auckland, New Zealand. Fun fact about me is that I have a third nipple, but no one ever believes me.

Four best words to describe yourself?

Empathetic, Motivated, Growing, Multifaceted.

What do you do?

I was fired a month ago so I’m currently finding a new job. I’m studying fashion design at the moment. And I model on the side to make some extra cash.

Has creativity always enthused you?

I think since I was young, I have always created. I used to buy fabric and sew dresses or buy canvases and paint, my parents still have a lot of the stuff I made. I am always looking for new ways to approach projects.

Could you talk us through your recent book?

The book is just a diary for me. It serves as a piece that will remind me of what I can overcome. It’s an unconventional approach to reintroducing sex into my life but it was so deeply person to me to be able to remember these men. It means the world to me that people that have gone through the same thing have been able to reach out and tell me they feel less alone.

When did you start writing it, and what experience led you to do so?

In 2017 I was assaulted. For the longest time I found myself making excuses for him because that was the only way my brain could process it. I remained celibate because the thought of touching someone or being intimate scared me. Until I found a guy I liked. He made sure I was okay and asked to kiss me and just made me feel so safe. We had sex and he looked after me every step of the way. After, I pulled my camera out to photograph him. I caught the flight back from Sydney to New Zealand and I wrote about him on the back of my ticket. Just how he made me feel and how comfortable I was. I then tucked it away and didn’t think much. Until I decided to publish them all in early 2018.

Talk me through your creative process…

For me, I wanted to capture the beauty that is the human body. These images are intimate and tasteful. I wanted to capture how close we were and what it felt like waking up in these beds and houses. This was a collaboration with these guys that are now my friends.

What message are you trying to portray through your book?

I wanted to let you know that being comfortable again can happen. Self-care is the first step. I’d be nothing without therapy and my support system around me. My triggers and trauma will not go away but I will be equipped to deal with those because I have taken the time to reflect and study my body.

Do you feel empowered and able to make a statement through your words?

I feel empowered when I listen to my mind and body. The more in tuned with yourself, the more empowered you will feel. I’m so grateful for the community that has lifted me up and supported me through everything. There is such a sense of family with the people that I have spoken to. They empower me as well.

Are you trying to input change into your generation?

Of course. If I touch one person that has been through some rough stuff, and because of me they started therapy or because of me they took some positive steps to deal with trauma, then it’s all worth it. It’s a weird position to be in. I am protective of the younger generation and want to look out for them as much as I can. This happened to me and it was awful and horrible, but I can’t change that. What I can do is help those that have been through the same and educate the importance of consent.

What’s next for you?

I think it just keeps getting better. I’ll be traveling to New York in June to get a feel for it and to meet some amazing people. I think 2019 will be fashion incredible. I have already been able to work with talented people; I want to keep doing that and see where modelling can take me.

Click here to follow Robert Tennent on Instagram and click here to buy ‘Come Back to Bed’. 

wordsChidozie Obasi