Book Review: Young American
The last time we touched base with Czech-born photographer Marie Tomanova was in June of 2018, at the opening reception of her first-ever solo show, aptly on exhibition at the Czech Center in New York’s Upper East Side. There, she introduced us to the raw, alternative beauty that is today’s American youth culture. Her show was a success, garnering much attention from many publications, but none was more impactful than that of Tomanova’s own hero, Ryan McGinley. After years of turning to the prolific young photographer’s work, she finally worked up the courage to invite him to her own show–and he accepted.
In an interview with i-D Mag, Tomanova beamingly recounts McGinley biking up from Chinatown to visit the ‘Young American’ show. The two sat together for hours watching over 300 of her portraits cycle through a giant projection in the gallery. Tomanova confided in McGinley the degree to which he impacted her own artistic expression. That is when McGinley brought up the idea of transcribing ‘Young American’ into a book.
All burgeoning young artists seek role models. Writers voraciously loom over the libraries, painters haunt the galleries, and contemporary photographers rake Instagram for inspiration. This process is a sort of proto-creativity, a necessary time for the artist to discern and shape their tastes to establish their artistic foundations. The depth of a body of work is explored in the throws of the creative process, a truth vulnerably acknowledged in Tomanova’s imagery.
Canadian Psychologist Merlin Donald described what he called ‘mimetic culture’ as a function of humans imitating and rehearsing in order to evolve as individuals in tandem with society. Raised on a small farm in the Czech Republic and immigrating to the states in her late twenties, Tomanova established herself as an artist in the white noise of New York’s millennial sprawl. Her photographic subjects exist, only at that moment, in apartment corridors, rooftops, and bathrooms. They ask the viewer, above all, to recognize their likeness.
Tomanova’s commitment to connect us with the pinnacle of expressive culture through photographic mimesis is not a creative sacrifice, but rather, a strikingly sincere synopsis of our social evolution. Even her own adaptation of ‘Young American’ from the gallery into print has expanded, not only her creativity, but also the process by which her subjects exist and inspire; a most familiar cycle.
The official launch for Young American was held at Dashwood Books, an independent shop and publishing house in Manhattan dedicated exclusively to photography. The cozy storefront has hosted similar launches and signings for other established artists including Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Miyako Ishiuchi The launch was from 6 PM - 8 PM on a Wednesday evening, where every copy of Young American sold out in the first hour. Tomanova sat behind a small folding table in the back of the shop where a woman held a DSLR camera and filmed her greet and embrace the swarm of affected fans.
When one can (and should) procure a copy of Young American, the first thing to note is the very fitting introduction by Ryan McGinley. He gives a reverent and unembellished description of Tomanova and her work, ending by saying that he wishes all of America’s youth looked like Marie’s photos, “diverse and inclusive.”
What Marie Tomanova’s work really does is provide us with an education, or as American scholar Arnold Weinstein describes a “vicarious immersion into others’ lives, endowing us with new eyes and ears.” While past generations may have been groomed from orations and literature, it is irrefutable that this generation is immersed in and bred out of visual imagery. The way Tomanova invites us to see opens up a world far beyond the bounds of our own personal and immediate experiences. A transcender of her medium, Marie Tomanova is a true cultural savant.
‘Young American’ published by Paradigm Publishing is available for purchase here.