Pin It
Marie Tomanova-2
Young American, 2018Photography Marie Tomanova

This exhibition pays homage to America’s vital youth culture

Taking a break from negative mainstream media, Marie Tomanova’s honest portraits celebrate the power of American youth

According to a 2014 census, youth made up over 30 per cent of the American population and that number continues to grow. In case you needed further proof, young people are not only a huge demographic, but an unstoppable force for shaping the future. The world is witnessing this force powerfully right now, from the orange clad activists storming the state for gun control, to the fearlessness of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the bravery of the youth who take to city streets yearly for Pride. But beyond being active on the frontline, young people have a powerful way of revolting by just being them: young, wild, and free. This inherent, revolutionary spirit is undeniable and one that runs that runs strongly through Czech-born, New York-based photographer Marie Tomanova’s latest exhibition, Young American, on display New York’s Czech Centre from June 28 – August 10. The show will feature 200 portraits of young New Yorkers, including model Jazelle (@uglyworldwide) and artist Slava Mogutin, that capture the essence of what it means to be young and revolutionary in 2018 America.

From wild moments at New York’s underground clubs, to intimate moments in personal spaces and young queer New Yorkers in drag, Tomanova’s far-reaching series acts as a microcosm for the potential future of America. In Tomanova’s lens of Jazelle’s iridescent beauty, we can glimpse an American future free of gender binaries and stale definitions of beauty. In the intimate moments of queer pride, we see an America where the LGBT community no longer have to fight for acceptance or tolerance and can just simply be. And in wild, chain tied fetishistic moments, we glimpse an America where female sexuality is liberated and celebrated.

“This show is the real picture of the real young America right now,” states Tomanova. “No matter what height, size, colour, race, social background; these young kids are America. It's nothing like what we see or hear in the media. It's the America that I love, and it’s the America that I hope will exist more and more. It’s the total the opposite of what Trump and corporate America are like and what they are doing. These kids are here, they are very real, and they have a powerful voice.”

Turning the visual perception of America away from the intensely political world of Trump, Young American gives viewers a break from the intense negativity of mainstream media. Within beautifully honest portraits, the hopes and dreams of America’s future leaders are boldly illuminated. “To focus on the positive aspects of hopes and dreams is to empower a motivation and agency for continued work for change,” explains the show's curator Thomas Beachdel, “rather than to retreat into helplessness and inaction. Tomanova’s work really has nothing to do with patriotism or saving some sort of idea of ‘America’ that has been steadily becoming more tarnished (and probably rightly so) on the world stage. Rather, this body of work is a statement of what America really could be. What America should be.”

Underlying the entire show is an ode to a youth culture trying to grapple with the term ‘America’. Tomanova’s experience of the country as a Czech immigrant arriving in North Carolina in 2011 was one that surprised her and critically informed her lens. “Coming from the Czech Republic, I had a very nice idea about the United States. Once I came, it turned out to be totally different, but the one thing I believe that held it all together were the youth, who remain very strong and who have a very important voice.” It’s this transient experience that has informed Tomanova’s lens as she captures the lives of those around her as they too try and understand their social and political realities.

Tomanova’s Young American not only encapsulates the essence of modern American youth culture, but is an homage to a long line of global, ever evolving, ever revolting youth. “The youth made up the majority in the 1963 Birmingham riot, and of course the same can be said about the countercultures of the late 1960s and their voices of protest,” exclaims Beachdel. “The voice of punk was youth. The voice of Aids protest was youth. The reinvigoration of the acknowledgement of systematic oppression that can be heard, for example, in N.W.A’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’, was the voice of youth. And Black Lives Matter, #metoo, gender identity rights, and now gun control…the voices of youth are among, if not the most powerful.”  

Young American is on display New York’s Czech Centre from June 28 – August 10. You can find out more here