Kate and Odie, who graced the cover of Lampoon’s Issue no. 23, repose in the bathtub, their skin grazing against one another’s. «New York is about belonging »
New York, New York – Marie Tomanova’s photography book
Before the sun sets, Ayana rushes to the terrace on the rooftop of an apartment building and stands next to the railing. She turns around and takes off her white shirt, her hair caught in the neck’s opening. Before she can shed it from her body, Marie Tomanova captures the shot where Ayana exposes her breasts in the foreground and Brooklyn – a borough in New York City – displays its cluster of apartments in the background. After the shoot, she sends the photograph to Hatje Cantz Verlag – a book publisher in Germany that specializes in photography, art, architecture, and design – and the latter inscribes a white box over Ayana’s breasts before typing the words New York, New York with the text Marie Tomanova below it. As the publisher prints copies of the book, Tomanova rifles through her photographs inside her photobook, the completion of her project and the continuation of her reverence for the city as her synonym to security, identity, liberty, and community.
Marie Tomanova on individuality and self-empowerment
As Tomanova dedicates: «This book is close to my heart, and I would like to thank all the inspiring people in the photographs». While she no longer deems herself a stranger to the themes of community and belonging, through New York, New York, the photographer reestablishes individuality and self-empowerment. When she began her self-portraits titled Self-Portraiture in the past, she thought of it as her homage to her upbringing on a farm in her hometown Mikulov in Czech Republic, and how she dealt with displacement, identity, inclusivity, gender, and sexuality when she came to the United States. As she tells Lampoon Magazine: «To a certain extent, to photograph myself in this new place was just that – an adventure, a sense of freedom. It was a real struggle to come to the United States knowing no one, and I came not knowing what to do, after finishing an MFA in painting, and not seeing myself as an artist because of the misogynistic repression of the school system I had experienced. I came feeling I was on an adventure but unempowered. The oppression I grew up with stuck with me deeply that I did not even realize I was unempowered and repressed. Does that make sense?» She has given an example of her moving to New York City on a whim after having seen one of Ryan McGinley’s photographs. She thought of meeting him and having him take her portrait. In July 2018, she had invited McGinley to attend her exhibition of Young American, her photo compendium that celebrates an idea of the United States where rifes still mesh with dreams, possibilities, hope, and freedom. McGinley came to the show, sat down with her for over two hours, and talked with her about photography and their philosophy in life. Tomanova has treasured the meeting since, noting how she felt counted in on a community of artists, a first after she arrived in the city. «I realized that up until that point, I had never actually seen myself as more than someone who could be photographed by others. While there is nothing wrong with that, I knew I had limited myself. I thrive being a photographer, an artist, so individual empowerment is essential. It is about the true and full realization of self, whatever that is for someone. In my case, it is about being accepted by and as myself, as an artist».
Taking one’s power back
As Tomanova continues narrating her experience to Lampoon, she moves on to her encounter with a former professor in her art school last summer. She flew back to her hometown in Mikulov as part of an artist residency within the area. At the end of the program, she exhibited her works, and there, she saw her professor from her painting class during her Master’s Degree who had treated her, among the other women painters in the university, in a manner she felt uncomfortable with. «He was someone who could have mentored us and supported us, but instead he sexualized us, belittled our efforts, and told us we could never make it because we were girls. When I saw him, I approached him and I was sort of hoping he would say something about my exhibition or treat me like a professional or a fellow artist at this point, but he grabbed, hugged, and kissed me on the cheek, and he told me how I needed to gain some weight and suggested that I eat some dumplings. I was shocked. I felt like a deer in the headlight. I felt like I had been violated somehow. It happened in front of other artists at the residency and the audience attending the show. I did not know what to do, so I said nothing». Frozen in shock, it took Tomanova a while to realize how much it disturbed her when he embraced her without her consent, but she summoned the courage to approach him the next day to tell him how she had felt and how wrong his act was. The professor did not understand where she was coming from. «But I said it, and the moment I did, I took my power back. So, this idea of individual empowerment is essential for me and for everybody to recognize their own power and not be treated poorly. We hear a lot about systemic oppression, and it is so true. We have to, in our own way, stand up against it. We cannot just stand by and let things go».
Lampoon reporting: Marie Tomanova move to New York
Tomanova drew the courage she had called upon from the moment she set her foot in New York City. The photographer admits that she often thinks about her decision to emigrate to the United States. At first, she had no idea she would stay for a long period. She had this idea of marrying his partner back in the Czech Republic and grew a family together, the role expected of her in her culture. «I always expected to go back and do what everybody does or a lot of people do there, but my notion of identity has shifted. I cannot see that kind of life anymore. Coming to the United States was the most significant decision in my life because it allowed me to step outside of my old life, my own prejudice of who I should be, and it allowed me to find out who I am and what I want. It allowed me to become the person I am and who I wanted to be. That is what New York, New York is all about: one’s coming to becoming – you come to the city and you become in the city». Every photograph in the book exudes one’s unbecoming of their past and one’s becoming in the present: Nicky dances on the subway while dressed in a mesh net; Massima grins as she lies in bed in her bra; Makenna & Doe stick out their tongues; George attempts to kiss Sharpie; Jordane, Benji, and Gia hang out by the fire exit; Andy wears a cowboy hat and dons a shirt in pastel pink and blue; and Nico applies red lipstick and wraps their face with a stocking. «For me, freedom has long been connected to issues around immigration status, home, ability to travel, and see one’s family. It has so many layers, and it differs for different people, but when it comes to the core of it, I have never been someone who liked to be told what I could or could not do, and maybe this is why I left for the United States in the first place – to be free, to be on my own, to be independent». Luisa grabs Shane’s face and dives in for a kiss; Symone wears her socks of swirls and blue as gloves; Raisa flaunts her green hair that reaches her waist; Ashley raises her arms to showcase her retro shirt; Alina wraps a gold handkerchief around her head; Bei plants a strand of pink flowers beside her face; Phineas drinks from the water fountain while wearing a cap with a boy’s face printed on it; Quay Dash displays their chest; Andromeda looks at the lens with haze in her eyes; and Arta climbs up a tree and embraces its branches.
Thomas Beachdel Live for the Weather project
«When art historian Thomas Beachdel first started looking at my images, he picked out one of my earlier photographs taken even before I had thought of myself as a photographer. It was a picture of my best friend Marky, holding a sign for Split, hitchhiking on the highway. Split is a name of a town in Croatia, and we were hitchhiking there one summer to visit our other childhood friend Míša. It was the ultimate feeling of freedom and adventure. Beachdel looked at this work – shot on a portable, digital camera between 2005 and 2010, when I was still studying painting and had never considered myself as a photographer even though I was taking pictures every day – and he shaped it into the Live for the Weather project that was shown in 2017 in New York and in Berlin in 2020». Atticus raises their arms to cloak the sun behind them that filters through the branches and leaves of trees in a forest; Phineas and Cameron lie topless beside each other on the bed; Mae kneels on the floor in her red dress with spaghetti straps; Adante, Slumxweirdo, and Zayy smoke and become secondhand smokers by the fire exit; and John looks at the camera between the curls of his hair dangling over his eyes. «Live for the Weather is about freedom; about being young, careless, hopeful, and loving; about being so much more; and about belonging to a group of friends, ingrained in belonging that resembles almost like a family. Belonging to me is about community, shared values, shared dreams, being together, and being yourself». Eli and Madeleine savor their kiss; Gracie stretches her almost-naked body in bed while wearing her red dress and red, buzzcut hair; Jesse closes his eyes as he revers the smudge of pink lipstick on his lips from Devon’s lips; Elle holds out her cigarette for Jahmali to light up; Makenna embraces Doe from behind; Isabel pushes the front of her jeans down by a notch with her thumb as she poses in front of a bridge; and Kate and Odie, who also graced the cover of Lampoon’s Issue no. 23, repose in the bathtub, their skin grazing against one another’s. «There is a certain difficult aspect in belonging and community, that if you belong to one community, then maybe you do not belong to another, or other people do not belong to yours, so there is perhaps a separateness in the community as well. I do not know how much I like that separateness, and this is why New York, New York, it is about belonging, and it is about a variety of communities. It is not just one. It is not just a particular group. It is all sorts of different people from all over the world. New York, New York does not just show a community – it shows communities and it shows belonging as a cohesive thing».
New York-based photographer whose body of work tackles displacement, identity, gender, and memory. Growing up in a South Moravian border town Mikulov in Czech Republic and moving to the United States, her photography has focused on portraits with the people she met on the street. For Lampoon Magazine, she photographed Kate and Odie for issue no. 23.