Marie Tomanova’s debut monograph Young American celebrates an idea of an “America” still rife with dreams and possibilities, hope and freedom. As a Czech immigrant struggling in a new environment to belong, to come to terms with her repressive past and her uncertain future, the portraits were taken between 2015 and 2018 in New York City visualize an America in which individuality is valued as uniqueness and not judged as a lack of sameness. www.marietomanova.com
Young American resonates with directness, presence, and the ability to see deeply an individual with whom we can somehow identify. It is about optimism, youth, and the connection between people—the humanness that is essential to us all. To look deeply at Tomanova’s portraits and to see them looking deeply back at you is the heart of this work. Young American asserts the hope for a better future as an antidote to an oppressive and intolerant social and political situation in the United States and, perhaps, globally.
Young American points not only to youth empowerment and the potent voice and presence that has emerged with it but also to the welcome disintegration of any sort of set idea about identity. One could contextualize Tomanova’s Young American in the increasingly important and powerful voice of youth culture that is in the process of vitally reshaping gender, society, culture, and igniting a much-needed ideological revolution.
As photographer Ryan McGinley writes in his introduction to Young American, “This is a future free of gender binaries and stale old definitions of beauty. In Marie’s world, people can just simply be. I wish all of America’s youth culture looked like Marie’s photos of Downtown, diverse and inclusive.”
KALTBLUT: Let’s talk about my favourite project. Young American. You have photographed so many young people in NYC. How would you describe them?
Marie: NYC has a really amazing Downtown youth scene, full of kids who are not afraid to be who they want to be, embracing their flaws and insecurities and pushing the boundaries of stale definitions of gender and beauty. It is a very vibrant and diverse community, which I think, exists to a certain extent in many big cities around the world. It just might be a bit bigger in NYC, since this place is a huge melting pot of cultures, nationalities, religions and everything else, which makes it a liberating place where being yourself is encouraged. New York is full of people who came to New York to be themselves, find themselves, or recreate themselves. It’s an environment that I am attracted to and feel that it is essential and important.
KALTBLUT: How did this project start out? Did you expect it to become this big?
Marie: I started to photograph portraits of people in NYC in early 2015. Actually, the first time I went and photographed somebody other than just myself (my first photography work was focused on self-portraiture) I was terrified and overwhelmed with the responsibility I felt towards the subject that I was photographing. But it turned out to be an amazing experience and I realized that I can do it and I can also make friends that way. Since then the camera became a tool for me, how to connect with people, how to hear about their story and connect on a basic human level. Especially in today’s social-media-era, it became very important for me to meet with people IRL and share a moment, create an experience together. Young American is an ongoing project and I am still photographing portraits for the series. It has been amazing to see it grow. And I am very excited to bring the exhibition to the Czech Republic, which will be my first solo show back home and I am very interested in what people will think. It will be opening on April 25th at Academia Film Olomouc in Olomouc. And the day after that, on April 26th, I will be opening Young American at EEP Berlin, which will be my first solo show in Berlin. It is extremely exciting!
KALTBLUT: I know that Ryan McGinley wrote the intro to your new book! How did that feel?
Marie: It was a huge dream come true. I love Ryan’s work. I have been looking up to him ever since I first saw his photographs online while still living in North Carolina in 2011. One of the reasons why I decided to move to NYC was the hope that I will meet him once and be photographed by him. It all happened, which I am really thankful for. I met Ryan at the opening of his exhibition Mirror, Mirror last summer and asked him if he would come to see my show Young American that was at that time on view at Czech Center New York. And he actually came to see it and it was such a precious moment – he is one of the most generous, pure, down-to-earth people I have ever met. We talked and talked and it was like a dream. In a way, that moment was my American Dream. And it came true. A few months after that, he also photographed me and wrote the introduction to my book.
KALTBLUT: You come from the Czech Republic but live and work in New York. How has each culture impacted you as an artist?
Marie: I was born in the communist era and just turned 5 when the Iron Wall fell. We lived in a very small town, in a house with a garden. We had chickens, bunnies, a dog, vineyards and a vegetable garden to take care of. It was a somewhat magical time, being the youngest of 3 daughters and spending a lot of time playing with rocks, dirt, climbing trees, running with my dog in the fields. We didn’t travel much and I spent most of my childhood and youth in the close family circle in my hometown. I think that’s where my urge to travel and explore came from and as soon as I got a chance to travel on my own I went for it. I was a groupie of one Czech band and with my best friend Marky, we hitchhiked all over the Czech Republic to see their shows. Then we hitchhiked all the way to Croatia one summer. After that, I decided to work on a boat that sailed down the river Rhein from the Netherlands all the way to Basel, Switzerland. Then I decided to get married in India and went there for a month and a half. And then I left to the US and thought I will be back in half a year. But I have never returned. I love it here. Living in New York gave me a whole new perspective on life, helped me to gain self-worth as I struggled with self-doubt and constant questioning of my work in the Czech Republic. NYC is a gritty place that constantly keeps you on your toes, there is always a new challenge waiting for you, it doesn’t allow you to become lazy or too comfortable. I like that, it defines who I am as a person and it definitely shows in my work.
KALTBLUT: What do you think you would be doing if you were not a photographer?
Marie: I would be a professional puzzler. I love detailed tedious work. It calms me down and makes me feel fulfilled.
KALTBLUT: What’s coming next? What should we expect to see from you?
Marie: After we launch my first book Young American, published by Paradigm, on March 27th at the iconic Dashwood Books in NYC, I will also launch the book at Dover Street Market in LA on April 12th. After that, I am bringing the book to both of the European shows that I have in April – Young American opening April 25th at AFO Olomouc and New York Calling: A Mini-Retrospective opening in Berlin at EEP Gallery on April 26th. I will have more exhibitions coming up this year and I am already planning shows for 2020, which I am super excited about. I am really into showing work in galleries and museums rather than scroll through tiny pictures on Instagram.
My talented friend Marie Dvořákova, who won the student Oscar last year, is making a documentary about me. She has been filming since the solo show Young American last June and it should be released in 2020.
Also, I am already working on a new series of photographs probably titled It Was Once My Universe which is a photo project dealing with my recently gained freedom to travel and it documents my visits home to Czech Republic where I haven’t been for 8 years until Christmas 2018. I am planning to edit the project into an exhibition and another book and I am extremely looking forward to it!
Marie Tomanova: Young American
By Thomas Beachdel (Author), Marie Tomanova (Photographer), Ryan McGinley (Introduction) – Published by Paradigm Publishing (Softcover – March 27, 2019)
First Czech solo show:
Opening Thursday, April 25th, 6 PM – Academia Film Olomouc – AFO 2019
On view April 23 – May 10, 2019 – Book launch during opening – April 25th
More info here:
First Berlin solo show:
Marie Tomanova – New York Calling: A Mini-Retrospective
Opening Friday, April 26th, 7 PM (during the Gallery Weekend Berlin)
EEP Berlin – On view April 26 – May 17, 2019
Book launch during opening – April 26th
More info here, eepberlin.org