In her most recent series, Positive Biology, Czech born and Brooklyn based photographer Marie Tomanova places the human body center stage. Red lipstick stands stiff between pointed toes, a bare bottom wonders through the snow, an outstretched hand grips a blue tiled bathroom. Riding shotgun on a road trip through The Mojave Desert, she shares secrets about her work both in front of and behind the camera.
Your photographs are subtly performative. Talk about your work in front of the camera and why you are often your own subject.
I studied painting at university but never felt fully satisfied with the medium. I stopped painting right after I graduated and ran away to the United States. The whole experience of living in a different country and culture helped me understand myself better. Separation from family and friends created space for deeper insight. When I came to New York, I saw Francesca Woodman's show at the Guggenheim. I was mesmerized. It became clear that photography and self-portraiture is the way I would go.
I shot myself because there was nobody else around. During the process I realized that seeing myself in photographs worked as a perfect mirror. And I like the power of being fully in control of the process. It's creatively satisfying to be both in front of and behind the camera.
Locale plays a strong character in your work...
Surroundings are very important to me and I search for the perfect place. I love walking around industrial Brooklyn. Or getting lost and naked in the woods. The wild energy of nature resonates with me. And I treasure visits to my friends' apartments, because there's always something inspiring there.
You were born in former Czechoslovakia. Can you talk about growing up in central Europe? How does your hometown influence your work?
I am from a small town in South Moravia, a really beautiful place where everybody knows everybody. We have a farm with goats and horses, chickens and bunnies, vineyards and fruit trees. My mom is an incredible gardener and so are my sisters. Family is important to me and we are very close.
My father died shortly before my 16th birthday. The process of understanding and acknowledging loss was very difficult. And I still deal with these feelings and memories in my work.
Your pictures seem to possess a narrative. Do you consider your practice a form of storytelling?
There is a story behind each picture. But I'm not interested in what they say to you about me. Instead, I want to see what they can tell you about yourself.
Can you share a few technical secrets? Is there a camera, lens, or filter you prefer?
I use Canon 5D Mark II for digital pictures. And Fuji's Mini for instant film. I recently discovered an old Polaroid 101 Land Camera which I absolutely adore. I don't use filters. I do very little editing in post. And I love to shoot in golden hour light.
Interview by Malika Ali Harding
Header Image: Marie Tomanova, Lipstick, Giclée Print, 2014
All Photographs © Marie Tomanova