No one does party pictures like Marie Tomanova
Her new book – ‘New York New York’ – is another full-throttle ride through the city at night.
Marie Tomanova was born thousands of miles from New York, in a small town in the Czech Republic towards the end of its communist rule. She describes herself as a shy child who spent most days after school working in the field with her family, where they farmed vegetables, chickens and goats, and made wine from their vineyard. The photographs she takes today are a far cry from the quaint image she conjures of this rural upbringing. Now, Marie is a meticulous photographer of urban nightlife, capturing the maelstrom inside a party or club with precision and ease, rarely shooting without her flash on, save for the odd picture of friends on rooftops overlooking the city. And her new book, New York New York, is a real testament to that skill.
"I longed for adventures and was ready to escape the routine of my small town," Marie says. "As soon as I could, I left to study painting at a university in a bigger town. It was liberating to find the art community, but most of the professors at art school were men, and I was constantly encountering misogyny. After finishing the degree, I gave up on painting and left for the United States."
What was meant to be a one and a half-year trip to the States became a permanent move. "It ended up being eight years before I was able to travel back home to Czech," she says. First, she spent a year in North Carolina and it was here she discovered the work of Ryan McGinley. Then she moved to upstate New York, travelling into the city on weekends to visit galleries and see the city that Ryan's work felt so integral to.
Within a few days of arriving, Marie met Thomas Beachdel, an art historian (who authored her new book) at the MoMA. "His mentorship became one of the most influential aspects of my life and career. It was him who took me to see the Francesca Woodman show at the Guggenheim Museum in 2012. I stood there, totally astonished by her work and journals that were included in the show and thought to myself, why did I never try photography? So I signed up for evening classes at the School of Visual Arts, and that's where my love for photography began."
Francesca Woodman's haunting black-and-white photography of the 70s and 80s became the framework for Marie's experimentation with photography, allowing her to explore both her artistry as well as her personal sense of belonging. "I focused on self-portraiture and identity, trying to find my place in the American landscape and examine how I fit in, mostly through taking these self-portraits in nature, work that also tied into my youth in Czech. It took a couple of years before I was confident enough to photograph strangers, but once I switched from self-portraits to portraiture of other people, I found the real beauty of photography. It became a tool for me to meet people, how to connect, how to make friends."
These friendships are apparent through her work. Young American, a book she published in 2019 with a foreword from none other than Ryan McGinley, had much the same energy as her latest work. New York New York, in many ways, can be seen as an extension of the Young American series, Marie says, "but with several important differences". This first book was shot from a very close range "to emphasise and highlight the sense of human connection and empathy between myself and others." Overall, New York New York, which has a foreword by Kim Gordon, has been shot from more of a distance. This reflects a change in Marie herself as much as her circumstances and surroundings. "I seek less desperately the sense of belonging I sought in the past, first with my landscape self-portraiture and then with the social identification. New York New York reflects that sense of being more at comfort and ease after mediating different places and challenges. I feel like I now belong."
As Thomas puts it: "Marie Tomanova's New York New York is a landscape of youth and a portrait of place -- entwining person and environment."
‘Marie Tomanova: NEW YORK NEW YORK’ is out July 2021 (Europe), Sept. 2021 (US, Asia). A signing will take place at Dashwood Books, New York on the 29th of September.
All images courtesy Marie Tomanova
- New York