“I like Marie because she has a warm heart and an enthusiastic spirit. Sometimes that’s one of the most important characteristics in being a successful photographer. Her subjects want to pose for her because they love her. Being Czech is kind of her super power”, writes renowned photographer Ryan McGinley in Young American, Marie Tomanova’s new book, which she’ll be presenting at Dashwood Books in New York City on Wednesday, March 28.
Marie is living the American dream in her own, particular way. As she confesses, “The feeling and realization of that is so liberating and fulfilling.” She arrived at the country to work as an au-pair in North Carolina, but she soon discovered Ryan McGinley’s liberating work portraying the youth in a natural, careless way. And she wanted to do the same. Moving to New York City, she met him, which “was definitely a formative moment” for her, as “he is such a generous and wonderful person”. Now, the renowned photographer has written the introduction to Tomanova’s first book, published by Paradigm Publishing.

The other major contributor is Thomas Beachdel, an art and architecture history professor, who has written an essay for Young American, which beautifully states, “Her images confront us directly and without artifice with the power and beauty of people simply being. It is about optimism, youth, and the connection between people.” But who are they exactly? “They are people who I met on the street, at openings, parties or found them on Instagram”, Tomanova says. “With most of them I met for the first time when we did the shoot, so I usually start with a chat. I love to hear people’s stories and learn about their journey”, she continues.

Among the close-up portraits, we can recognize several people from the city’s creative scene, like artist, photographer, and METAL 39 cover star John Yuyi, painter Alannah Farrell, singer Quay Dash, or models Lil Dallas and Alton Mason. “I love taking portraits more than anything else. It is never the same, it keeps you open-minded and flexible; each person is unique and has a different story, energy, and level of shyness”, Tomanova says about approaching them. “I photograph mostly with my little point-and-shoot camera, and to get such a close-up of somebody’s face means that I really have to get close and into your comfort zone. Eventually, I realized that the camera became a tool for me to connect with people.”

Both Ryan and Thomas highlight the same in their texts for the book. The latter says, “Tomanova relates to her subjects – they relate to her. It is almost as if they are not separated by anything other than a shared air.” But she’s aware of the fact as well. Having grown up in a divided territory, the current political climate in the United States has made her even more aware of how fragile freedom is, and how important human connection is. “It is pretty crazy to see how many things have changed since I arrived. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay as an immigrant”, she confesses.

“I was born behind a wall, the Iron Curtain, which finally came down in the ‘90s after students initiated the whole Velvet Revolution that ended communist time in Czechoslovakia. Why is there even any talk of another wall going up?”, Tomanova asks about the current political debate. Nevertheless, as we can see in her pictures, she believes in the power of the people, especially the younger ones. “I think that it is up to the youth to stand up and change things to be how they want them, otherwise, no one will. And I think this is really what is going on”, she says. In part, the new generation and its braveness to fight urgent issues have inspired her to do Young American. “This is what inspires me about all of these young Americans, they reflect what they are. They are themselves, and they have a voice and a presence.”

Marie Tomanova has a presence and a voice too. Very special ones, we must say. And a very personal way to use them, which translates into raw, honest, and straightforward images. As she herself puts it, “Walls divide, they need to be taken down. That, in a sense, is the essence of my portraits: there is no space between you and them, or me and them, or me and you. There are no walls.”
Marie Tomanova will be launching her book Young American on March 28 at Dashwood Books, 33 Bond St A, New York.
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