AnnMarie Tornabene

It seems like the beginning of a perfect romantic fantasy—a white flowing dress, a crown of flowers and a far-away expression that says Prince Charming is a mere breath away. Yes, beauty is there. But so is a dark reality that things aren’t what they seem.

Self-portraits by AnnMarie Tornabene are all of this and more. Her journey into self-portraits began with a desire to reconcile society’s definition of female beauty (thin, tall, young) with her overweight form. She donned her brave suit and made a series of nude photos of herself for her MFA project at CW Post (Long Island University).

Her nude series was met with support and affirmations. The Queens photographer believed she was onto something. Her images became more narrative. Models started to appear beside her. Photographs began to look like tableaus as she continued to explore self-doubts and her life experiences.

Enter Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. By now, Ms. Tornabene realized making a cohesive body of work was an important goal. Exploring a single idea gave her room to explore concepts visually. A single photograph could be put into context and viewed individually or in relation to multiple images.

Running with the surreal encounters by Alice and adding a good dose of fairy tale enchantment for good measure, Ms. Tornabene was ready to explore the dark side. The result is Rabbitholes and Revelations. Most feature Ms. Tornabene in a flowing white dress in wooded settings. They conjure classic romantic paintings, Greek mythology and Shakespeare’s nymphs looking for trouble. They are beautiful but jarring. They compel, repel and command a second look. Through the process, viewers may very well examine their own attitudes about obesity, beauty and the nature of sexual attraction.

Facing down critics that claimed Rabbitholes and Revelations wasn’t contemporary enough to suit art viewers, Ms. Tornabene began to examine her own surroundings. Recently moving from Long Island to Queens, the world of brick buildings, concrete, iconic landmarks and abandoned parking lots formed the background to her latest series, Not Wonderland.

The same white flowing dress is present. So is her iconic romantic classicalism she brings to her photography. Photographs find the fairy tale heroine (Ms. Tornabene) sitting on a subway, standing forlorn on a city sidewalk, before a graffiti-filled building and other urban landscapes. Like Rabbitholes and Revelations, Not Wonderland is autobiographical.

In March, Ms. Tornabene gave a talk at the East End Arts Council in Riverhead about her journey of forging a creative vision into a cohesive body of work. The lecture capped a week-long residency at the non-profit organization.

During the residency, Ms. Tornabene had the chance to photograph herself with a nearly-white horse in the nearby farmlands. (The image is titled, “Simon-The White Knight.” See Also in March, she gave a talk at Thomas Nelson Community College in Virginia coinciding with a group exhibition “celebrating women in the arts.”

Ms. Tornabene’s photographs have been exhibited internationally. Long Island venues include the Islip Art Museum, Chase Edwards Gallery in Oyster Bay, St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, fotofoto Gallery and BJ Spoke Gallery in Huntington and others. Her work can be viewed at Her book, Rabbitholes and Revelations is available at

pat rogers

Pat Rogers is a freelance writer specializing in arts and culture on Long Island. When not going to art openings or interviewing actors or musicians, she’s looking for the next interesting story.