A Quick Promotion

Apologies for my long absence to those who read my blog. I have been torn for years between keeping a blog or abandoning it altogether simply because it seems difficult to hold people’s attentions more and more these days, as well as not gaining enough of an audience here to be motivated to write my thoughts and musings.

In any event, I have converted my website to another platform so if you are interested in my photography and art, here is the link to my site – www.annmarietornabene.net. In addition, from the 5th through the 13th of March, my series Les Peintures will be on display during the Salon Photo International in Alsace in the town of Riedisheim. If you just happen to live near there, I will be there during the 2 weekends and will also be talking about my photographic history and how the series came to fruition…in French. This will be the first time that I speak in French for longer than a few minutes so this should be interesting!

I hope to post more in the future but you can always subscribe to my newletter for up to date info on me and my work! Stay well!

Movement with Bird (censored version) © AnnMarie Tornabene

My grandfather – a dedication

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. I don’t remember the exact year he died but it was around 1988 at the age of 91. He was my maternal grandfather and the only male figure in my life that I really felt was my hero, always being there for me. I don’t know much about his relationship with my mother nor my aunts when they were kids but I knew how he was with me and my sisters. He loved us all. I have so many wonderful memories of him starting with him picking me up from school when I was a small child. My primary school was literally down the street from my grandparents’ house so he would either drive or walk to get me and when it was walking, I would hold his hand. I spent many afternoons at their house and even spent some nights. Most memories centered around food. He would make breakfast/lunch for me and we sometimes went to the docks where he would fish but we would just sit in his car while we had lunch. There were the Sunday dinners that started at 11am and ended at 4 with a million food courses but always ending with a cigar for him, a card game with us and some farting in for a good laugh. There were the BBQs in the summer where he would take a huge sauce or soup pot and fill it to the brim with hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages and other meats. We called it, simply, the pot of meat! There were the neighbors who would complain that he would burn leaves/garbage in a big pit in the backyard. There was the time that he just went into the yard of someone who lived next door to the gynecologist’s office of my grandmother to pick dandelions for cooking that night’s dinner. When he showed my grandmother, instead of yelling at him, she said, “oh good. that will be nice with the sausage”.

When I got older, as they did, they moved into our house. They sold their house for a song to my oldest sister (who didn’t deserve it, quite frankly but that’s another story. It was tough having them live with us but just as funny. One famous story was when he became lazy and didn’t want to change his pants after wearing them several days in a row. My grandmother would yell at him to change them and he would yell back “no!” So one morning, my grandmother came out of their bedroom with her walker, his pants hanging, wet, on her walker and a big, proud smile on her face…..she peed on his pants in order for him to change them! 

At some point, he had to go into a nursing home. Both of my grandparents were so sad for that. We took grandma to visit him often but then she passed away. Telling him was one of the hardest things. He loved her so much — 63 years of marriage before she passed. He died only a few years later. I wish time was different and that he was alive now as I am older. So many things I would love to share with him, including cooking. My Sicilian grandpa Vito. 

Missing Post

I just found this entry in my draft box and forgot to finish it from the Spring. It had been some time since I wrote something. I have been dealing with both physical and psychological health problems in between finding the ability, the motivation and the inspiration for creating. Nonetheless, there has been a few creative moments including new photo sessions of Dollface as well as a portrait drawing session. Our shoots have been of us together now. At the beginning, when I first created her, I looked at her as a replacement of me. I didn’t feel the desire, as much, to photograph myself for my serious work and felt whatever I need to say could be said with her. However, I became so attached to her, even “transmitting my soul into her” that, especially during these difficult times, she could be my sympathetic sidekick or perhaps, rather empathetic. She feels what I feel and it’s so important for me to have that right now.

After re-reading the above, I have to update that I am in the process of making a book of images of her and have a new idea that continues the partnered photographs of the two of us in an even more surreal way. Meanwhile, see below this drawing that I did of her from “life” as well as one of the photos of us together. I have updated my website to include more so please have a look and if you want to subscribe to my newsletter, you will actually receive more active updates than on here!

In My Face

This post is not art-related, I fear and while my blog, overall, is written for myself, from time to time, I like to share some of my “insights” and thoughts with others in order to not feel alone. It is really that, for us, isn’t it? We, who as a society are selfish and feel self-important when in the end, are we so important? Forgive me in advance if this post is a bit disconnected but I am trying to get my thoughts organized.

I am an extroverted introvert. I do like meeting new people within certain realms but overall, I am not good with people. Blame my parents, my terrible childhood and early adulthood and add that I prefer my own company (and that of my husband) and animals to others, on a whole. Having said that, I have respect for people – all people regardless of color, sex, age, or culture unless they are The Stupid. I can not deal with The Stupid, though that runs rampant (or is it amok?) more and more as I get older. Or maybe I just tolerate them less.

Since moving to France, I have become even more isolated and intolerant of The Stupid. While I have a couple of dear friends back in the US, I haven’t been able to connect wholly with anyone here. It could be the language barrier, though I am improving some there. It could equally be a cultural thing, and/or it could be an age thing. However, my statement still stands true here, now that I am living in Europe – that I respect who I can. The multi-cultural, multi-religion, multi-everything is more evident and that is more than fine with me. It makes the world more interesting when there are differences in others.

I also am a big fan of peace and non-violence. Really. Even with The Stupid. My rule is to turn away from them as much as possible. But…this one moment with Them, that I am about to share, was impossible to escape.

My husband and I were on our way home from our vacation last week. We were tired, having had dealt with The Stupid – either those that work for the public transportation system or those of the Tourist variety. We were on our last bus that took us fairly directly home. 5 minutes on the bus and a young African woman with her baby stroller got on. Based on the little I understood, an altercation began between her and an Arabic woman, presumably over the space taken up by the baby stroller. The argument escalated. It got loud with screaming and a very immature exchange (one was mimicking the other, repeating everything the other said, very much like a child would). Then the words started flying “Racist!” “Terrorist!” Other passengers got involved. I shouted to the bus driver to do something. He sort of yelled to calm down but no one heard him. More people got involved with the shouting when the next thing I saw was a physical fight break out complete with a man choking a woman. With this, 1 woman and 2 men jumped in to try and break it up yelling to the bus driver to stop the bus and open the doors. He finally did and the original 2 that were fighting as well as the man doing the choking were off the bus and perhaps others but I couldn’t see.

The bus went back on the route and all I could do was shake and cry at what I had just witnessed. My husband tried to calm me but all I could see was the choking, the screaming, the hateful words. It brought back memories of when I was hit and yelled horrible things to because I was fat during my childhood. I thought of how bullying could lead to death either by the bullies or via suicide. Racism is bullying. The woman that was being choked could have died. Someone in that fight could have had a knife. We could have been in the middle of it and been hurt or dead.

Some of you reading this may be unaffected. Perhaps you live or have lived in a place where what happened is commonplace. Maybe you, like me, have a form of PTSD that would be triggered with seeing something like this. Or maybe you agree with what happened. If you do, I am sorry for you. No one should ever be in a situation like that – either fighting for nothing that leads to violence, or just the violence on its own. So many thoughts are running through my mind as I write this. The women starting the fight- what psychological history do they have to take something as stupid as taking up too much space and turn it into such a racist and violent thing? Was it inevitable that it would turn into a racist thing? Was the stupid argument just a pretext to the prejudices that ran deep in them?

Growing up in the US, and as it continues, racism seems to have a clearer divide – black vs. white, for the most part (there are always exceptions). Here in Europe, it isn’t so clear as evident in what I witnessed. The multi-cultural does not always want to Be. The multi-religion the same. The divide continues instead of mixing together to be One. But there will never be One. In my opinion, it is not a divide of race, religion, sex or culture. It is a divide between us and The Stupid. And I am sad about it, going further back into my introverted retreat.

An Epiphany

I would like to share with you, dear readers, of how strangely my brain can work. I was folding up a tissue to throw out when I remembered an art teacher from my grade school days teaching us origami one day. My heart had leapt when she announced that we would be making an origami camera. I don’t remember now what the process was but this was when I was, perhaps 10 years old, before photography fascinated me enough to have an interest in it. The thought of that origami camera and the excitement I felt which led me to ask myself, once again, “how did I get interested in photography and more so, how and when did photographing myself really become a deep-rooted need?”

I thought back to that time when I was 10 years old. I am the youngest of 3 girls and over the years, looking at family photographs I noticed and then remembered that my mother didn’t care much in taking photos of me. There are very few photos of me as a baby and it seems that, aside from communion photos and school portraits, any photograph that had me in it was intentionally made for family and almost all of those had my mother in them, or my sisters/other family members.

My mother was not a kind woman. my earliest memories of her mentally abusing me was around that age of 10 – when I began to gain weight and her angry, hurtful words toward me grew and lasted up until my adulthood when I gained the courage to shout back… though she continued to insult me until the end of her life. She was also a jealous woman. Her life didn’t turn out quite the way she wanted, so she took her frustrations out on her children.

And then here comes a sort of parallel – there are the photographs of her from when she was young woman…which were plenty. She was also the youngest of 3 girls and she was ignored by her family (but not abused) so the numerous photos of her, dressed gorgeously, hair done, posing began around the age of 18. She was a vain woman and perhaps because her marriage and her family were not quite perfect, she became jealous of those that she deemed were. She craved attention and sought it out however she could including, at a later age, dressing sexily, flirting with men and always needing to have her picture taken.

I remember reading, perhaps from Susan Sontag’s book On Photography, that there is a certain perceived validation to being photographed; that when someone asks to take our photo, it makes us feel special, desired, beautiful. The act of just admiring us is not enough but to immortalize us on film, pixels, etc. is “real validation“. I know that I begged my mother to take photos of me when I was a child and I remember how annoyed she would get when I asked. It seemed that she never wanted to take photos of her child (unless she was in those photos) and I never had the love and real validation of feeling beautiful from the one person that mattered at the time. I craved it and I craved attention. This craving led to me growing up, flirting with and ending up in toxic situations with men, gaining and losing and then gaining a lot of weight and my self-esteem could not have been any lower.

Her need for attention became my need for attention.

So, while in university studying photography, I finally found the excuse to have photos taken of me. Not by others, though….and that still holds true. No one desires to photograph me and why should they? I am taking enough, more than enough in the last 25 years that no one needs to. It had became a hunger, a need because I needed the validation that I was beautiful. That I was loved and damn it, if no one was going to give it to me, I might as well give it to myself. What I am writing here goes beyond my written artist statement and is as honest and open as it can get.

That need still exists but it has since calmed. I am almost 52 years old and have had a difficult life. I still struggle greatly with my weight and looking at myself in the mirror and in photographs still make me critique my appearance. However, there is a level of self-acceptance and a point when other things take importance and it becomes exhausting to focus on that one aspect of me. If I continue to photography myself until I can’t anymore, I hope some of those photographs include some wisdom or a feeling of “settled”..to not have that need for that kind of attention anymore. I hope.

As this year ends…

I know I do not “blog” often enough. Perhaps there isn’t enough of an audience for me to do so or perhaps it is that I am more focused on creating and promoting my artwork rather than share my daily or weekly reflections.

In any event, it is now almost the end of the year. And what a year it has been for all of us. I can only speak for for me though, and say it has been very difficult. Since 2019, I have gained some weight due to depression, stress and the beginning of menopause and this has caused me to have many pain problems in my back, legs and feet. More than usual, I should say. Add to that, Paris had a transportation strike from the Fall of 2019 through the beginning of 2020 which led to me losing a lot of work and then COVID. I lost almost the entire 2020 in terms of work and the few lock-downs made my physical and psychological state more difficult.

In light of all this, some of the schools I pose for regularly were able to pay me for planned dates that were canceled. In addition, I was able to take advantage of working via Zoom as model. It has been strange in many ways – posing nude in front of a laptop almost as if I was doing cyber porn and limiting as well since the format of the laptop camera is horizontal, having to force my poses to be in a horizontal space all the time. Then there was/is the Wi-Fi connection problems, which have thankfully been only few. However, in the Spring, I had enough artists participate each week to make some money. Not so much now during this second lock-down but I do have a few artists each week, nonetheless. On a different note, I was able to see free concerts by some of my favorite musical artists whom I would never have been able to see in person due to location or money and I was able to re-connect with old friends via Zoom which was also very nice.

Artistically speaking, for my followers and readers that already know, the birth of Dollface happened and I must say that she has truly been a lifesaver this year. Between creating her, making improvements/modifications to her, making her costumes and props and just taking moments to hug her hard, have made the difficult times more bearable. I will be making a new update on my website soon but you can go and see some of Dollface now.

Lastly, because I have had many people loving my images of her, I have decided to re-open my Etsy shop that I had some years ago called The Pre-Raphaelite Fae. I am selling limited edition prints and postcards of selected images of Dollface in addition to some of my older self-portrait works and my illustrations such as the below of a barn owl. If you are interested in purchasing something AND before Christmas, I suggest placing your order ASAP. Because I am shipping from France, and there are some COVID delays, I want to be sure you are able to get your orders in time. I am offering 10% off introductory orders of 2 prints or more and a special surprise gift with orders over 100€.

So, I would like to end this blog post with a bit of hope. I want to wish all of you, my readers, a very joyful and loving holiday season filled with laughter and good food. For those of you who may have lost someone this year, either to COVID or anything else, my love goes out to you even more. To the rest, reflect on the positive things that did happen during this difficult period and let us all look toward the new year. Vaccinations will soon be made available, even if we need to be cautious at first. And I know that if we can look at things and each other differently from before, learning something new about how we spend our time and money, then things will get back on the right track.

Thank you so much for reading this and supporting me and my art.

Modèle Vivant and the Journey of Self-Acceptance

I have written plenty of times about my experiences as an artists’ model and my quest of self-acceptance in terms of my body but I am writing this with more musings.

For those readers who don’t know me, my name is AnnMarie Tornabene-Boivin and I am a self-portrait photographer/artist and an artists’ model for over 23 years. Both of my careers happened almost simultaneously. I was asked by a painter if I would consider posing for a group of seasoned artists during my last few years at university when I was working on my thesis project which was a series of full-color nude self-portraits. I was and am a large woman and had been abused physically and verbally through my childhood, early adulthood and led to many personal problems. Photographing myself was how I wanted to start the process of self-acceptance and then the thought of posing nude for others would be an additional step in that process. That one class that I posed for led to another and then another and through reputation, the jobs became plentiful and while I worked other, more standard jobs at the time, the modeling took precedence as my method to make a living.

What also happened was that I gained more confidence, not necessarily in what I looked like as a woman in the actual world, but that in the art world. I began to think that I was beautiful. My curvaceous body was and is revered by sculptors, especially but I believe that my curves add something very interesting in all of the mediums and I have often been told this. 

I was never once scared standing on the model stand nude because I knew that I was in the artistic realm. However, over the years, I did experience certain reactions, both positive and negative from artists and art students. I lost and gained weight and I have aged all on stage. People have seen me either as a goddess (their words!), an inspiration, or someone who vastly needing improving. A story regarding the latter – around 2009, I lost a significant amount of weight somewhat quickly and from that and my age, my skin sagged tremendously and created lots of different and strange shapes. I was more uneasy with who I was during this time period than before because of that but whenever I was on that model stand, I shooed those thoughts away. Except…a woman whom I posed for over some years, pulled me aside during a break and told me that she had the phone number of a very good plastic surgeon that could help me. Paraphrasing only slightly, she said “it’s a shame because you have such a beautiful face. You just need to firm that body up”. During that time I heard more under-handed compliments made than ever before. “You are half the woman you were!” “Wow, something must have scared you a lot to lose that much weight!” “Wow, you are beautiful NOW!” Believe it or not, it was that time, so many years into my modeling career that I started to feel the scrutiny of my body. Yes, of course I knew that I was being studied as that has always been the intent but never before did I realize that people thought that they personally knew me to the point to be able to just say whatever was on their minds about what I looked like. On the positive side, I did receive standing ovations from young budding art students after posing and some young women (and men) approach me telling me how brave they thought I was and so inspiring. I continue, this day, to get those comments even as I have gained some of that weight back and continue my career after 50 years old.

So, at 51 years old, I now also have arthritis in my knees, constant back and leg pain and a slowness of going from one pose to another. In addition, now without a car, I need to haul myself onto all forms of public transportation sometimes taking me 3 hours round-trip to get to a model gig. I am tired and hurt on some level during and after every model job. So why do I continue? Because once I begin to pose, my soul takes flight. Especially when I am doing short poses, can I express myself with grace and as much freedom as my body allows. Because even though I am able to do this for the camera in my personal art work, being able to do this to others more directly gives me a hope that I can be a muse just as much to a more classically formed model and with my age and experience, more substance as well as what I like to call and aged beauty. Perhaps vanity was once a defining motivator but it’s hard to be vain in an “imperfect” body that is exposed to the world. I would rather use the word proud than that, and proud that I am still here and still doing this fantastic job that I love. Below, I am including a little slide show of me posing over the years and I have included one where I weighed the most as well as a couple with one of my favorite models, and friend, whom I had the pleasure of posing with for many years.

Dollface Continued

First, I would like to say that work from the new Dollface series is up on my website now so if you are interested, here is the direct LINK to the page.

I am deciding how to proceed with this project because I would like to use her long-term. At the moment, I am just taking ideas in my head and shooting but there should be categories in the future like interior/exterior, black and white/color, Mythology/Personal Symbolism….I just have to keep shooting to see how the themes evolve, I think. At the moment, I am in the process of gathering materials to create an actual interior – a bedroom more than likely. Eileen Arnow-Levine, an illustrator/book maker and multi-media artist whom I know, inspired me as she has been creating a dollhouse complete with the most amazingly detailed miniatures. While I will not be going to those lengths, plus Dollface is not miniature, measuing at 50cm (almost 20 inches) tall , I have some ideas in the works.

I did create a new costume for her recently, though and we did a couple of shoots with it. Here is a medieval-inspired chemise and “corset” over-dress that I since changed the lacing on.

And here is a new piece entitled “What If”:

Lastly, I would like to share this short process video I made of another shoot I did with her. A lot more work goes into these shoots than ones of me. For one, I can pose however I want and I don’t need to use pins or supports. She doesn’t have a face, naturally, so all of her expressions must come in the form of grand (even not so grand) gestures in her poses. So, I have to bend her arms and the wired spine I have attached to her to get them. Interestingly however, sometimes after I am finished manipulating her and plop her somewhere, she then takes an emotion that didn’t come through before.

Readers, I hope you will follow me on this new journey. There is definitely a sense of ease to not be in front of the camera for awhile. Perhaps I can say that it is done for me to be so but nothing is ever certain.

Introducing Dollface

Dollface was born from the COVID lockdown. The only connection I can make with the two is that the lockdown gave me the time to really bring out my inner child. It started with a clothespin fairy that I made, seriously out of fun and boredom. I don’t consider myself crafty at all simply because I don’t have the perfectionist skills needed to make something presentable and a lack of patience in other areas doesn’t help. Well, I took my little fairy doll and took a few phone photos.

And after I had a laugh, I thought about my short time in therapy and the psychology of using dolls as ourselves to act out traumas. I didn’t create Dollface for that exact reason but the thought of creating a doll personae of me was appealing. So, I spent hours, days with just my ideas and no actual online DIY help to create her and then with a little online help along with a wonderful dressmaker friend’s gift of fabric scraps, I’ve begun making costumes for her. I did have patience there having to sew everything by hand, not having a sewing machine. Plus, the act of sewing has created a sort of meditation for me.

I created her without a face so that the expression comes from the interpreter. In addition, my face has always been my best feature and I exploited that with my expressions in my photographs. I wanted to take that out of the equation. Having a doll take my place felt like a natural direction after years of wanting to to create self-portraits that were not so obvious.

The name Dollface might not sound very inventive but Dollface was an endearing name my maternal grandmother used to call me when I was a child and one I will cherish so it made sense to call her that. In fact, I am not embarrassed to say that I often hug her and there is a good feeling I get from her so yes, she is therapeutic. She is also fun to pose and play around with and of course there is humor in the photos. However, given that I am using similar themes and symbolism to my previous work, I want some sense of seriousness here and perhaps I can take her further than I could with me. In the meantime, I am having a great time creating costumes and scenes with her. I even took her to Paris yesterday for a shoot.

I will be uploading a number of images to my website soon. As I have been on a “self-portrait journey”, I only find it fitting that this will be The Adventures of Dollface”. 🙂

Dear Facebook

What I sent them today, after finding ” a way”. Once my ban is lifted, this will go public.

Dear Facebook,

Once again, I  must thank you for hindering my art promoting. It thrills me SO much for seeing you and your algorithm/robot giving me countless violations and bans due to accidental or intentional postings of my artwork which shows my breasts. Wait – it is MY NIPPLES that you feel are offensive to the online community, not even my breasts. This is already funny since I am a large woman with sagging breasts so my nipples barely make an appearance.

13 violations, a 7-day ban this time, 30 days the next and a threat that my professional page will be unpublished.

Community Standards:

Your standards talk about violent and harmful things that would upset and offend someone. They talk about bullying, verbal attacks and more. Those standards talk about free expression under certain terms. I understand all of this, yet every time I scroll down my news feed, I have to scroll through one negative post after another. We are all in danger of: COVID, another election that could extend Trump’s term as president, constant news of asking for thoughts and prayers to people that are sick and dying. Any sense of a positive post only seems to come in the form of photos of cute animals – but wait, not without other posts from vegans sharing what is happening to those cute animals. Almost everything I see has a direct psychological effect on me, and not in a positive way. Harmful enough?

Oh but you DO list reasons that women’s breasts can be shown:

– act of protest

– pictures of breastfeeding or after-birth moments.

The latter is something that would truly upset me. What woman would have her breasts out after she gave birth and WHY would she want to share that on social media? Having said that, if she is allowed to, then she has the right.

So here I am – an artist who photographs herself and sometimes nude. The nudity acts as something vulnerable – the literal baring of myself and one that some people deem courageous. There is NOTHING pornographic here and if someone is offended by the work, they ALSO can scroll past, delete my friendship, etc.

I am also a “starving” artist. Social media has given me the opportunity to promote my art as much as possible and if a person, instead of an algorithm or robot actually reviewed these posts more carefully, they could see that there is nothing harmful about my posts.

I have read some artists have tried to protest Facebook’s standards but it seems it has gone nowhere. Yes, I have a choice to walk away from Facebook and Instagram. I would rather not as they have proven to be important enough links to my self-promotion so instead I will fight you.

I urge you to re-evaluate your priorities on what you deem as appropriate or not on social media because if you won’t ban political posts, ones that show violence during protests or the slaughtering of animals as they can be harmful for many, then my self-portraits have NO RIGHT TO BE BANNED.

The image that created this latest ban. Offensive, harmful and damaging to the psyche, huh?: