Ryan McGinley, Introduction to Young American

Marie has great energy with big wide eyes. She reminds me of Margaret Keane’s paintings of her Big-Eyed Waifs. Her eyes feel pure and curious. In photography, they say the eyes are the windows to the soul.

Marie has a shaved head, similar to Sinead O’Connor in the late 80’s, Sigourney Weaver in 1991, or even Britney Spears in 2007. Some say Britney shaved her head to kill an identity and be reborn. When Marie Tomanova made her way from a small farm in the Czech Republic to the East Village, and filmed herself shaving her head, was she reborn?

In February 2011, Marie moved West from a farm in the Czech Republic to the United States. She was 26. It was her journey toward starting her own American Dream.

Coming of age in the Czech Republic, she loved Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing and watching translated episodes of Sex and the City. Marie watched all 94 episodes. I think Marie’s view of America was shaped by these pieces of pop culture entertainment. They were formative and made an impression shaping the vision of her photography today.

She first moved from Czech to North Carolina to be an au pair and realized that all of America was not like Carrie Bradshaw’s life on Sex and the City. A year later she moved closer to New York, continuing her work as an au pair, landing in White Plains, about an hour outside the city. She started slowly venturing into the city on her own.

Marie met her partner Thomas in a very “Sex and the City” kind of way—a handsome distinguished man flirting with a blossoming European woman at a New York museum. Initially, she rejected him and later that day she found him conducting a captivating walking tour at the museum, lecturing about the depths of the art on the walls. She was enthralled and fell in love.

Together they went around to all the great New York museums. At the Guggenheim, she discovered Francesca Woodman. This was
a rather formative moment. I think Marie was drawn to Woodman’s fantasy, female subjectivity, and dangerousness. Many of Francesca’s photographs show the artist, nude, blurred, merging with her surroundings in empty apartments or in nature.

The nude is a long-standing subject in art—the liberating act of undressing oneself and capturing that on film. Marie found a new role in life as an artist, a photographer. Marie learned to photograph by shooting her own nude body in the style of Francesca Woodman. As young artists, we all imitate our heroes until we discover our own voice.

Marie, now married and living in the East Village, was heavily drawn to the eternal fashionable youth of downtown New York. This is around the time Marie shaves her head. She is experiencing what a lot of us went through as young artists in the East Village—using our tenement building’s rooftop, shooting in the cramped hallways of a 5th floor walk up, or in our bathtubs.

Marie is a great casting director. She has an eye for unusual beauty. She is a face hunter who only shoots film. She buys Kodak Gold for $4.20 a roll at B&H Photo. She uses a Yashica T4 point and shoot camera. The famous cult camera with a Carl Zeiss lens.

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. I think her subjects are more open to being photographed by someone from another country. Someone who may not be a representative of anyone they might have ever known or met. I think it disarms people and they let their guard down, it helps make better photographs.

I admire Marie’s tenacity. I admire that she came from a farm that seems as far away from New York as possible. I admire how she is making it happen. She’s got resourcefulness and humility, she’s got the NY hustle.

Her work reminds me of Corrine Day, The Sartorialist, Nan Goldin’s Ballad, Ren Hang, Richard Kern, The Cobra Snake, or Bill Cunningham.

Her first show was at the Czech Center on East 73rd street. She projected her photographs twelve feet high and eighteen wide for all to see. When I was there I kept thinking to myself, “Who are these people in these photos?”

They are party people, fashion people, club kids, and art kids. Fluid, sassy and sometimes gritty. Marie meets them at openings, bars, backstage at fashion shows, and through DM’s on Instagram. They take photos and share photos together.

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.