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  • AnnMarie Tornabene

April 19, 2024

AnnMarie Tornabene


Back in 2008, for my series Rabbitholes and Revelations and Not Wonderland, I created a long, white dress for the occasion. Not really being a dressmaker, I sort of pieced together something simple but diaphanous in nature to create both an almost bridal gown but with movement. The top of it was transparent because I didn’t have the material to line it, but it was also to create the ability to show my nude breasts when I needed to have nudity in the image. It was, at the time, a symbol of innocence as well. Before I left New York in 2015 for France, I almost threw it out. I thought it had its use and as the elastic was getting worn out, the badly sewed edges fraying, the “pretty, flowy dress” looked like it went through a mill.


The dress, like me, had gone through a lot. Those two photographic series took place over the course of 4 years. They began after I had just married my first husband but long after the trauma between my life with my family and my life with him began. In 2014, when I was in the process of my divorce and facing my ex-husband while he screamed at me, saying hateful, horrible things to me and then my continued confrontations with my mother and having to move back into her home for 6 months to fight against her abuse, I was falling apart but not entirely. Therapy at helped me be a little resilient which helped me stand but inside was a mix of strength and weakness. I felt like a warrior fighting a war with nothing but thin armor. But armor, nonetheless.


I kept and packed the dress to bring with me and when I took it out for the first time to use for a photo shoot here in France, I ripped into the skirt with a scissor and my hands. I haphazardly cut and shredded some of the hem and when wearing it outside, I step into the mud with it, tearing it further in places.


This dress has become my skin with all its flaws. As I wear it in many of my photographic series and in my performance videos throughout the years, my sagging skin, my wrinkles and my scars will be reflected in this dress as it deteriorates with age.  


En 2008, pour mes séries Rabbitholes and Revelations and Not Wonderland, j'ai créé une longue robe blanche pour l'occasion. N'étant pas vraiment couturière, j'ai assemblé quelque chose de simple mais de nature diaphane pour créer une robe presque nuptiale, mais avec du mouvement. Le haut de la robe était transparent parce que je n'avais pas de tissu pour le doubler, mais c'était aussi pour pouvoir montrer mes seins nus lorsque j'avais besoin de nudité dans l'image. À l'époque, c'était aussi un symbole d'innocence. Avant de quitter New York en 2015 pour la France, j'ai failli le jeter. Je pensais qu'elle avait fait son temps et comme l'élastique s'usait, les bords mal cousus s'effilochant, la " jolie robe fluide " semblait être passée à la moulinette.


La robe, comme moi, avait beaucoup souffert. Ces deux séries photographiques se sont déroulées sur une période de quatre ans. Elles ont commencé alors que je venais d'épouser mon premier mari, mais bien après que le traumatisme entre ma vie avec ma famille et ma vie avec lui ait commencé. En 2014, alors que j'étais en pleine procédure de divorce et que j'affrontais mon ex-mari en me criant dessus, en me disant des choses horribles et haineuses, puis mes confrontations ont continué avec ma mère et le fait d'avoir dû retourner chez elle pendant 6 mois pour lutter contre ses abus, j'étais en train de m'effondrer, mais pas complètement. La thérapie m'a aidée à être un peu plus résistante, ce qui m'a aidée à tenir le coup, mais à l'intérieur, il y avait un mélange de force et de faiblesse. J'avais l'impression d'être un guerrier qui se battait avec une armure très mince. Mais une armure quand même.


J'ai gardé et emballé la robe pour l'emporter avec moi et lorsque je l'ai sortie pour la première fois afin de l'utiliser pour une séance photo ici en France, j'ai déchiré la jupe avec une paire de ciseaux et mes mains. J'ai coupé et déchiqueté au hasard une partie de l'ourlet et lorsque je l'ai portée à l'extérieur, j'ai marché dans la boue avec elle, la déchirant encore plus à certains endroits.


Cette robe est devenue ma peau avec tous ses défauts. Comme je la porte dans plusieurs de mes séries photographiques et dans mes vidéos de performance au fil des ans, ma peau flasque, mes rides et mes cicatrices se refléteront dans cette robe qui se détériore avec l'âge. 

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  • AnnMarie Tornabene

As the Kickstarter campaign begins to come closer to the end, I have been sharing excerpts from My Body Collective - the short autobiography that I have written last year "commemorating" 25 years that I am on this artistic path to self-healing and acceptance with the use of self-portrait photography as well as my career as an artists' model. In the book, I talk about my childhood and the abuse I endured starting with my mother, then classmates, then men and others that I had relations with and more. I talk about the effects the trauma from these experiences have done to me - in aspects both bad and good and how I have managed to live with it all and how my art has basically saved me in so many ways.

Yesterday was my mother's birthday. She would have been 87 years old. She passed away at the end of 2016 and while I had very little emotion from her passing, I do think about her when her birthday arrives. I have also received some news the other day from my sister that the house is finally sold. My sister had lived with my mother her whole life and after my mother's passing, she lived there longer trying to figure out her own life. She has now moved out and sold the house and when she told me, it left a pause in me. This is the house that I lived in until the age of 35, although by the age of 23, I was really only there for basic needs of sleep, shower, eat...I spent most of those years in university and at the houses of men whom I may had been involved with. However, this was the house where it all started - I was born there and grew up in a toxic environment. It started with my father's official diagnosis of schizophrenia at a time when little knowledge/support was there and then problems with my oldest sister which led her to move out of the house. My mother had very good reasons for being angry and upset. However, those emotions should not have been taken out on her other children. Unfortunately, they did and she did until the day she died.

I suppose there had been some happy moments there (there are photos that appear to show them but they were tainted and often completely overshadowed by the anger, jealousy and more. The fights between my mother and father would escalate to verbally violent proportions and were a constant. The mean, hurtful words that my mother used toward me every day would go deep inside to the point where I believed everything she said. The "funny" thing is that as the years went by with this constant abuse, she would often say she loved her children and how she had children to take care of her when she got old and as I got older, I thought about that. If a mother does not show her child real love nor take care of her child the right way - meaning beyond the basics of feeding, clothing, etc. then how can the child care for the mother? But sadly, my sister tried in spite of what was done to her as well. I feel for my sister and I wish she had the courage back then to find a way out as well.

None of this matters now. The house is gone. My sister said she had blessed it all that she could so that the new family moving in would not feel any of the negativity that was harbored there. I, too, wish whoever is living there now peace and love and a real home filled with happiness. These are things that I truly wish I had and that I am now working to have. I finally have a truly loving husband whom I love so very much but the scars of my past still run deep and it is taking lots of effort to reach that goal of true happiness. All is not lost though and as I close that chapter of my life by writing this book, the selling of the house cements it. It's time to finally breathe.

This is the last photo I took of the outside of the house in January 2017. It had gone through some outside renovations over the years and not quite what it looked like when I was a child.

This was my mother's recliner in the living room. It was her throne in what I had named the dragon's den. In this chair, she sat day after day, with a cigarette in her hand, lashing out at all of us, abusing us, telling me that I was fat, ugly, grotesque and other hurtful criticisms about how I looked. It was all the time and you could not walk past her at all without something bad happening. Of course none of it was solicited. She couldn't control herself and had to say these things to make her feel better about herself, the situation, whatever it was in her mind. When I saw this chair for the last time, it was the only moment I cried. I cried almost happy tears because I knew I would never have to pass her in that throne ever again.

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  • AnnMarie Tornabene


The year is 2023 and we are living in crazy times. The war in the Ukraine continues, politics, which I never follow are more a mess than usual, the planet is dying and people are more selfish and self-centered than ever.

All of these things make me withdraw into myself more, if that is possible- something I think many others are also doing. It's called self-preservation. This is something I know a lot about as a survivor of abuse and trauma. No, I was not physically abused on a daily basis unless you want to call the physical bullying I endured as an adolescent by my classmates physical abuse. However, it is the psychological abuse that I endured daily from the ages of 10 years old (earliest memories of it anyway) until late adult and it has affected every aspect of my being from my own self-worth, to relationships I have had whether it be in friendships or romantic relationships and while I am now happily married, I am still an introvert and still very much alone physically and psychologically and spend all of my time coming up with creative ways to handle it.

Luckily, I have my photography, my model jobs and my other creative outlets and I would like to explain, in short, the self-portrait work I have done over these 25 years in these terms. For those of you who follow me on my social networks - Facebook and Instagram - you will see different levels of self-portraiture. There are my works which are profound, symbolic, created with the intent of them being "fine art works" and then there are the ones where I am in costume, posing in castles, ruins and other types of landscapes. During the interview I recorded some months back, (I will be posting the interview on my YouTube channel soon), I mention that photographing myself has always been a deep need. If I need to escape, if I need to play or to experiment with things artistically, it is by photographing myself. As children often do, when they (we) play alone, they tend to create worlds in their minds, imagine and enjoy - this is how I work and where those costumed photos of me come from. In fact, all of my work comes from my own universe but it is the costumed ones that are my inner child's play so while they are indeed self-indulgent, there is a very serious reason for creating them.

Lastly, as I get older, I try to look at myself differently. I look in the mirror and at my photographs and I see someone aging. I sometimes see wisdom and experience and other times, I see someone who has a lot to learn. I hope this year that my works and even my life evolve more but the thing that I will hold on to is that all of it will continue to take place in my own universe. My safe place.


Nous sommes en 2023 et nous vivons une époque folle. La guerre en Ukraine continue, la politique, que je ne suis jamais, est plus désordonnée que d'habitude, la planète se meurt et les gens sont plus égoïstes et égocentriques que jamais.

Toutes ces choses me poussent à me replier davantage sur moi-même, si c'est possible - ce que beaucoup d'autres font aussi, je pense. Cela s'appelle l'auto-préservation. C'est quelque chose que je connais bien en tant que survivante d'abus et de traumatismes. Non, je n'ai pas été maltraitée physiquement tous les jours, sauf si vous voulez appeler les brimades physiques que j'ai subies à l'adolescence de la part de mes camarades de classe des violences physiques. Cependant, c'est l'abus psychologique que j'ai enduré quotidiennement depuis l'âge de 10 ans (mes premiers souvenirs en tout cas) jusqu'à la fin de l'âge adulte et cela a affecté tous les aspects de mon être, de mon amour-propre aux relations que j'ai eues, qu'il s'agisse d'amitiés ou de relations amoureuses, et bien que je sois maintenant mariée et heureuse, je suis toujours introvertie et toujours très seule physiquement et psychologiquement, et je passe tout mon temps à trouver des moyens créatifs de gérer cela.

Heureusement, j'ai la photographie, mes emplois de modèle et mes autres débouchés créatifs et j'aimerais expliquer brièvement le travail d'autoportrait que j'ai réalisé au cours de ces 25 années en ces termes - pour ceux d'entre vous qui me suivent sur mes réseaux sociaux - Facebook et Instagram - vous verrez différents niveaux d'autoportrait. Il y a mes œuvres qui sont profondes, symboliques, créées dans l'intention qu'elles soient des " œuvres d'art " et puis il y a celles où je suis en costume, posant dans des châteaux, des ruines et d'autres types de paysages. Au cours de l'interview que j'ai enregistrée il y a quelques mois (je la publierai bientôt sur ma chaîne YouTube), je mentionne que me photographier a toujours été un besoin profond. Si j'ai besoin de m'échapper, si j'ai besoin de jouer ou d'expérimenter des choses artistiquement, c'est en me photographiant. Comme le font souvent les enfants, lorsqu'ils (nous) jouent seuls, ils ont tendance à créer des mondes dans leur esprit, à imaginer et à s'amuser - c'est ainsi que je travaille et c'est de là que viennent ces photos costumées de moi. En fait, toutes mes œuvres proviennent de mon propre univers, mais ce sont les photos costumées qui sont le fruit de mon jeu intérieur d'enfant, et si elles sont effectivement complaisantes, il y a une raison très sérieuse de les créer.

Enfin, en vieillissant, j'essaie de me regarder différemment. Je me regarde dans le miroir et sur mes photos et je vois quelqu'un qui vieillit. Parfois, je vois de la sagesse et de l'expérience et d'autres fois, je vois quelqu'un qui a beaucoup à apprendre. J'espère que cette année, mes œuvres et même ma vie évolueront davantage, mais ce à quoi je m'accrocherai, c'est que tout cela continuera à se dérouler dans mon propre univers. Mon endroit sûr.

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