What’s behind the photography? How does Marie Tomanová work with it? And what makes her successful in the field of fine arts and in her work for Instagram?

Marie Tomanová was born in 1984 in Valtice, but since 2011 she has been living and working in New York in the United States. She studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Brno University of Technology, and later in America she started to photograph. She made her breakthrough with a series of portraits Young Americans, exhibited in well-known galleries in New York, Prague, Tokyo and Paris, her work is summarized in the books Young American, New York New York, It Was Once My Universe. A new exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery presents a recent body of portraits entitled 5 East Broadway.

Marie Tomanová and her life and professional partner Thomas Beachdell were guests of PAW22. At the last edition they talked about Marie’s work and career in the Art Career block at the New Stage of the National Theatre. The interview in the PLAN_T podcast follows this interview and many others in the Czech environment.

Not everyone is familiar with the history of photography, but photographers and photographers build on the work of their predecessors – just like painters. At a certain point, Marie became interested in the self-portraits of Francesca Woodman, whose work led Marie to photography. “For the first time, I was able to see into the artist’s mind,” she explains. Self-portraiture, along with the diary entries that Woodman used to express what she wanted to say, then became a key form of expression for Marie Tomanova for several years.

Another photographer who influenced Marie was Nan Goldin – particularly her series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which was produced as diaries between 1979 and 1986 in New York. “I think those photos of hers resonate for a lot of reasons, even though formally everything is wrong there, they’re powerful intimate moments,” Tomanova enthuses. What she enjoys about Wolfgang Tillmans, then, is that it’s not about conceptual art, it’s about looking into his mind, even mundane things like a mug, then hanging in MoMa.

Diane Arbus ( one of the representatives of the so-called “New York School of Photography”) wrote: “A photograph must always be about something, and what it is about must always be more significant and complicated than the photograph itself.”

What’s behind it in Nan Goldin, for example, is emotions and relationships, and in her case it’s very dark. But for me it’s a similar thing, (not so dark) it’s not about the depiction of a person. It’s more about connection, relationship and trust with that person. It’s really very much about exploring identity, how we perceive it, how we create it, and how it can be captured. I’ve been working on identity since the beginning of my career – whether it’s the identity of the people in the photograph, or my own identity that is reflected in it, but also that of the viewers who look at the photograph and connect to it in some way,” Marie Tomanová answers what she believes photography is really about. In her most recent exhibition at 5 East Broadway, she took this aspect of her work even further with her first-ever visions of portraits.

When asked what her work means in practical terms, she explains that she works with people by having the sitters sign a model release. The photographer then tells them that the photos will be in a book or an exhibition. It’s different with celebrities and commercial assignments.

“Instagram found me on Instagram, it was an amazing experience. I’ve done three campaigns for them, it’s top of the league, a professional collaboration,” says Tomanová. “For example, competing for a commission is a long process, it can take several months – it’s about presenting yourself and your vision with a lot of confidence, for example in front of 50 people from Meta. The whole production team then numbers about 150 people,” she ads.

A documentary about Maria Tomanová was made for HBO by Czech filmmaker Marie Dvořáková. The two met in New York in 2018, and since then Marie Dvořáková has been making films about Tomanová regularly. She captured not only her successes. but also the creative process. The documentary should be released next year.

You can see Marie Tomanová’s exhibition 5 East Broadway at Fotograf Gallery until 16 Dec. 2023.
It is curated by Thomas Beachdel, who prepared it for the Fotograf Contemporary platform. For the first time, the exhibition combines color, black and white photographs and short films to present a varied and multifaceted vision of strong individuals.