Tag Archives: forgiveness

Kickstarter 84% funded! 5 days to go! Please back this important project about domestic violence.

We have just hit 200 backers with 5 days to go and 84% funded! Please take 4 minutes and watch my video.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/236716023/he-threw-the-last-punch-too-hard/

This project is about domestic violence, mother-daughter reconciliation, forgiveness, compassion, family and hope.

Daniel Milnor wrote an eloquent blog about photographers helping other photographers. It’s the basis of why we are all here, not just all artists but all humans. There is more to life than eating, sleeping, working and vacation. We are meant to reach out and touch each other.

http://shifter.media/create-hannah-kozak/

There have been so many angels helping back this campaign. We couldn’t do this without all of your support and belief. I believe that the photographers job is to reveal the truth, even if it’s not the most popular subject. I immerse myself for years at a time with dedication to my photography and cannot pretend for the sake of protecting family secrets.  We must uncover truths especially if it’s sad because our job as artists to help others feel.  I’m not afraid to be a truth sayer. Photography is a journey of self discovery and at the same time, helping others.

I am partnering with FotoEvidence, who has created 24 photography books documenting social injustice. From their website:

3 January 2017

2 May 2016

4 July 2016

“FotoEvidence Women is a new chapter of FotoEvidence Press, a space for free expression, devoted to engaged women photographers who want to tell their stories in the form of a photo book. Though their lenses women can shape the world differently and we want to give them this chance. “

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Introducing Book Project: He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

I’m grateful to announce that my ten year project on my mother, has a publisher. This has been a 10 year journey of writing and photographing her. In the process it began a reconciliation of a mother-daughter relationship after domestic violence, as well as a story of forgiveness and compassion.

Please have a look at my short video:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/236716023/he-threw-the-last-punch-too-hard/

We have 32 days to back the project! Please help us make this come true!

From my 10 year project, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard.


My Mother’s Dolls part 3

My Mother’s Dolls part 3

This project began organically in December 2009 as a way for me to get to know the mother I truly never knew. The camera brought me connection and separation, all at once. I was given the gift of intuitive observance and another gift of recording that observance. I learned to be bold and vulnerable simultaneously. Eight years later, I am continuing my photo essay on my mother called He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard. It’s as if the project took on a life of its own once I started. I sometimes wonder if genetic memory of being a second-generation Holocaust survivor triggered my need not only to recognize but also to spend years of my life creating photos, editing those photos and turning this project into a book, to help tell this story of a social injustice — domestic violence — about which more stories need to be told.

I dreaded being indiscreet, but invading my mother’s and my privacy was the only way to tell this story. I am sharing my mother with the larger audience because eventually publishing a book on her story would be a small victory. She instills such hope in me. I am witness to her heart and her immense reservoir of compassion for humanity. Her entire being is imbued with the quiet principles of spirituality: living in the moment, being non judgmental, forgiving, and kind.

My father used to tell me that what happened to his family and the Jews in Europe in World War II could easily happen again. So I question everything and that’s part of my storytelling aim as a photographer: questioning and sharing. We are only here for a short time so part of my goal is to create something positive for humanity. I love photography because each person will interpret an image through their own individual eyes. Ernest Hemingway said we should write hard and clear about what hurts. I believe this translates to all art forms. This blog is part three of My Mother’s Dolls. It’s an edit of my mother with various dolls she loves, that keep her company day and night.

© hannah kozak

May 16, 2014

© hannah kozak

26 May 2014

© hannah kozak

23 Nov 2014

© hannah kozak

8 December 2014

© hannah kozak

8 March 2015

© hannah kozak

4 April 2015
After moving into new facility.

@ hannah kozak

17 April 2015

@ hannah kozak

23 April 2015
With Olivia and baby Olivia

@ hannah kozak

13 June 2015

@ hannah kozak

14 June 2015

@ hannah kozak

19 June 2015

@ hannah kozak

22 June 2015

@ hannah kozak

12 July 2015

@ hannah kozak

12 July 2015

@ hannah kozak

22 July 2015

As a bittersweet sidenote, I was awarded the Julia Margaret Cameron Award, 6th Edition, 1st Prize – single Documentary photo from my series on my mother —
He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard.

This project also made it to the finalists for the CDS/Honickman, Duke University 1st Book Prize in Photography 2014.http://firstbookprizephoto.com/hannah-kozak-2014-finalist/

And, this project make it to semi-finalists for the CDS/Honickman, Duke University 1st Book Prize in Photography, 2016.

Early this week I asked my mother what she does every night. She said “I pray to G-d to help me.” “To help me with happiness, I don’t know how to explain.” And then she said “The hardest part of my life is accepting things.” “I want to be like you, Hannah. I want to walk.”

My Mother’s Dolls part 3


My Mother’s Dolls part 2

My Mother’s Dolls part 2

This is Part Two of the series, My Mother’s Dolls. These photos are a continuation of the series: He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, which began in December 2009. My mother is in a wheelchair, brain damaged from her second husband’s abuse. She cannot pick up the phone when she is feeling lonely to hear a familiar voice. Or take a walk in the neighborhood, listening to birds singing. Reading a book isn’t an option. She can’t reach out for a dog or cat to pet. Yet she manages to smile at the littlest things, like her dolls. Small reassuring beings, friends in quiet moments.

I have been a participant observer, documenting my mother’s nearly adult lifetime confinement to a nursing home after a brutal beating by her second husband.

I will continue to focus on the comfort objects that help my mother get through her day. These nurturing dolls are my mother’s friends, day and night.

Hannah_Kozak_My_Mother's_Dolls-1109

© hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

Guatemalan doll

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

In emergency room

© hannah kozak

Dora and Hello Kitty

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

Dinner time

© hannah kozak

 © hannah kozak

My mother was having lunch. I walked into her room and saw her freshly made bed.

My Mother’s Dolls part 2


My Mother’s Dolls

My Mother’s Dolls

Forgiveness and Compassion

My mother’s birthday is around the corner, and I am ironing nametags onto the various stuffed animals I have chosen for her. I run the hot silver plate over the back of a stuffed grey and black kitty, sealing my mother’s name onto his back, making it hers. My mother loves her stuffed animals. They are her companions, keeping her company and bringing her comfort during the day and late at night.

My mother is in a wheelchair, brain damaged from her second husband’s abuse. She cannot pick up the phone when she is feeling lonely to hear a familiar voice. Or take a walk in the neighborhood, listening to birds singing. Reading a book isn’t an option. She can’t reach out for a dog or cat to pet. Yet she manages to smile at the littlest things, like her dolls. Small reassuring beings, friends in quiet moments.

I have been a participant observer, documenting my mother’s nearly adult lifetime confinement to a nursing home after a brutal beating by her second husband.

http://hannahkozak.com/he-threw-the-last-punch-too-har/

My mother is the longest living resident in her home for the aged. When she entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed, too, if I ended up crippled, but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions from frustration. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point where she cannot walk, feed or clothe herself.

This is Part One of the series, My Mother’s Dolls.

These photos are a continuation of that series; He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, which began in December 2009. I am focusing here on the comfort objects that allow my mother to get through the day, nurturing and loving dolls that stand in for the life she lost.

My mother's new dolls for Mother's Day 2014

My mother’s new dolls for Mother’s Day 2014

My mother in Guatemala.

My mother in Guatemala.

@ hannah kozak

Olivia, her favorite

@ hannah kozak

The Snowman

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

Another favorite – doll I brought her from Antigua, Guatemala.

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

My mother and MJ Thriller doll

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

As a bittersweet sidenote, I was awarded the Julia Margaret Cameron Award, 6th Edition, 1st Prize – single Documentary photo from my series on my mother, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard.

That project also made it to the finalists for the CDS/Honickman, Duke University 1st Book Prize in Photography 2014.

http://firstbookprizephoto.com/hannah-kozak-2014-finalist/

My Mother’s Dolls


The long & winding road to Masada with Hummus

The Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea is home to an ancient site in Israel; Masada. Anything on the World Heritage List fascinates me. It’s true. Why am I in Israel? Being in Israel brings me to my family on my mother’s side, the home of the Jewish people, and a country that not only has the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea & The Dead Sea plus pretty mountains and a bonus of yummy falafel and hummus.

Sitting in a bus is relaxing as we drive in the desert since I don’t have to worry about directions. I feel my breath slow down. When we physically don’t move, our minds become still. I don’t need any mantra or teacher or technique. Our minds were given as tools to serve us not to be our master. I recognize my breath in broader terms than simply respiration. As I slow my breath down, I close my eyes remembering the story of Masada.

It’s a great, awesome yet tragic story. Not to be flippant but if nine hundred sixty Jews committed suicide so the Romans wouldn’t force them into slavery, the least I can do is climb the snake path. You can either take the snake path, which is eight hundred thirteen steps, ( I love minutiae) and was the original and only way the ancient inhabitants walked or you can take the cable car to the summit. The 1st century Roman-Jewish historian Joseph Flavius wrote of the snake path “And one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and perpetual windings and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg and then the other; there is also nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind.”

You’d never see something like this in America without rail guards. Frankly I think it’s completely safe and I doubt anyone is going to fall. I have the fear chromosome. I just refuse to let it run me & my life. Honestly the walk was challenging but it’s worth the pain. I had an injury that I’ve never been quite the same from and whenever I attempt to do things like this, I pay for it dearly. In my head I’m still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I go off into a fantasy where I see Jewish people climbing this path and I hear them singing my favorite songs from Hebrew school. Hevenu Shalom Aleichem which means we brought peace onto you. Don’t worry if you don’t get the first verse. Second verse is exactly the same. I always liked mantra because I was trying to quiet my thoughts. I just didn’t know that it had a name back then.

I wish I had shorts on instead of jeans. I start to remove my layers of clothing as I begin the steep climb. It’s just me and my favorite MJ Off The Wall t-shirt all the way to the crown.

I was nearing the top as a group of four was coming down the stairs. A woman, noticing my obvious discomfort says “take some water”  in a tone that is part stern teacher and part loving mother. “I don’t have any” I replied. “Honey, give her some water” she said to her husband in a tone that was not negotiable. For a split second I saw a “why do i want to give up my water to a complete stranger when I still have to climb this entire mountain down the hill” look in his eyes. Without missing a beat, he handed me his Arrowhead water bottle. “Keep the bottle” she said my discomfort so apparent anyone could see. They continued their descent down the mountain.  I leaned my right hand on the mountain as I was shaky, stopped and drank the entire bottle and was thankful for this person reaching out to me. I would have done the same. That is if I had any water.  I love when we see each other.

I reach the summit. I feel the light of god’s presence which swallows my loneliness whole. As the group around me chit chats with each other I am off with my camera recording what I see. The force of holiness is looming in every crevice in this all at once sacred and god forsaken spot.

I have a meeting with G-d. I ask if he can take away my mother’s pain and sorrow from living in a home for the aged for thirty one years. I further make a request to remove my sister’s hurt and anguish because she’s the only one who visited my mother most all those decades. Please G-d grant me acceptance of my mother’s life. I beg him. I have no choice but to feel everything I have been running from.”Sorry but it’s all yours” he says. Mine’s so big he can’t make any arrangements. It’s karma that belongs to me because I choose her to be my mother so I could learn forgiveness. Who was it that said no matter where you go there you are? I flew all the way to Israel and I still can’t get away from me.

Freud defined neurosis as the separation of self. If I’m a child of G-d then the love is inside of me. It has been all along. It’s so simple but we mess it up. Whenever love disappears we become fearful. Fear is to love just as darkness is to light. Anytime your mind goes south, it’s fear that the love is gone. G-d didn’t create fear. We did. If it’s not love, it’s an illusion. Speaking of illusion, next stop is the Dead Sea. It doesn’t seem like it could be real.

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. But the translation is not accurate. Yam Ha-Melah, means the Salt Sea. It’s the lowest place on the earth, 33.7 % salt and eighty six times saltier than the ocean. It’s so dense you can’t really swim rather you float. You can see my view from the Israeli side looking across to Jordan.

As I sit silently in the bus as we make our way back to the bus station in Tel Aviv I begin to think of my father and what it took for him to leave Poland after losing his entire family during the Holocaust, seven siblings, his mother, father and both sets of grandparents. No one. He was completely alone. He didn’t speak English, not a dollar in his pocket and he boarded a ship to make his way to America. He had nowhere to go simply because he was a Jew. Out of nowhere I feel the emotion well up inside of me like a wave. I have no family on my father’s side because he is Jewish. That seems insane. I’m in Israel because I feel connected to the people here. There’s an unspoken understanding we have. Even if I feel as if I don’t belong sometimes; which I struggle with less and less; in Israel I am part of a group.

I moved to Israel thirty years ago to deal with my feelings and emotions surrounding my mother. Now I am back in Israel and am thinking of my father and what a survivor he is. In the dictionary there is a photo of my father next to survivor. He worked a nine to five job for thirty years at Hughes Aircraft as an aircraft inspector. On his lunch hour some days he’d sell porn out of the trunk of his Chevy Nova and/or leather jackets he would buy wholesale. Once a week he’d tell his co-workers to cover for him as he would drive to downtown Los Angeles from Culver City, a half hour drive, to buy clothes second hand which we’d sell every weekend at the swap meet. “These pants are too small.”  someone would say trying on clothes. “They’ll stretch” he’d swiftly reply.  “These pants are too big.” from another.” They’ll shrink.” he’d come back just as quickly. He bought real estate on the side; renting out homes in the San Fernando Valley. My father was raising five children so he had to hustle. His motto of stay hungry kept him working non-stop seven days a week. I never saw my father kick back on a couch on Sunday with a Budweiser can in his hand. He makes most men look like bums my father. He taught me to sell just by watching him. My eyes are so filled with tears now that I can’t see the road anymore. I don’t need to see it. I’m not driving. I’m thinking about a friend that I miss so much that I flew to Israel for the holidays so I wouldn’t have to be at home. I have a tendency to run when I start to feel too much.

I’m noticing the beauty that is in front of me and all around me. G-d created the mountains on either side of the road and the sun is beginning to set as the sky turns a brilliant orange and pink. I have a bag filled with bath salts from The Dead Sea that I purchased to give to a friend along with olive oil to bring a friend because she practically lives on it.  Michael Jackson is singing to me from my iPod and in between the tears from thinking about how inspiring my father is; I am humbled with how blessed I am. I am in Israel, I’m thinking to myself. I have my mother’s family here that I love, friends like Hope and her beautiful family are nearby and I have time to be alone when I need to. When I return home I am going to visit my father. I will call him just to say how are you doing Dad. I have my breath. My life is a blessing and a gift. I’m off to search for the perfect hummus and falafel in Tel Aviv when I get off this bus. And a side of forgiveness.Now we’re talking.

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The feet of a Bodhisattva-my mother

I’m going to see my mother I decided as I was speaking to a friend on the phone. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone who visits a mother with regularity. For me, it’s mammoth. For decades, I wasn’t able to go at all. Then I could only go with my sister. Then, for a while, only with my intuitive healer as she held my hand. When I became able to go alone I could do it only with my camera in tow. My camera provided me with an extra wall of protection from my feelings.

“You’re too sensitive” my father would tell me when I was a little girl.  “Hannah, you have to control your feelings, don’t let your feelings control you.” he said later when my mother wound up in intensive care at UCLA hospital. My mother is the longest living resident in a home for the aged. Perhaps it would be easier to accept if she ‘d actually been aged when she entered the hospital-like setting thirty-one years ago. She was forty-one years old then and my family had been trying for five years, between rental homes and hired help, to take care of her after she suffered brain damage at age thirty-six. She had left my father for another man. That man abused her to the point of life in a wheelchair. That man, whose name I still can’t say, was no longer in her life.

When my mother entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed too if I ended up crippled but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point of not being able to walk, feed or clothe her self.

I pulled off the freeway and into the familiar lot. I just wanted to see her and tell her I loved her.  A wave of emotion came up inside of me and as I backed my car into a parking spot, I realized I couldn’t go in. My eyes were red, the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt utterly exhausted from the emotion.  Sometimes my emotions overwhelm me and all I can do is crawl into bed, into the fetal position that I sleep in, my way of saying I want back in the womb.  “Mami, some days just bring the feelings back” my friend said to me on the phone that afternoon. Mami is a term of endearment we say in Guatemala. It seems to have stuck with certain friends.

“But why” I asked as if she could give me an answer. “I thought I was doing so much better.”

Her compassion and understanding were exactly what I needed. “Think of physics. Nothing can ever be at the same place at the same time. A spiral. If you start to go around the spiral, you can be right next to where you were but you will never be in the exact place. Does it ever end up at the same place.” Her words were so soothing as I was melting.

I gathered myself enough to walk into the metal doors. I took a deep inhale before I entered as always. Then I take a deep breath to exhale as I walk down the hallway of familiar linoleum floors that look as if they haven’t been changed in thirty one years. The smell hit me as I was buying a little time with my exhale. A combination of old, sick people, disease, disinfectant, dirty skin, age. I poked my head into my mother’s room. I notice the green curtains long ago faded by the sunlight. Three wheelchairs gathered in a corner of the room. A border of pink & blue flowered wallpaper along the top of the wall. A miniature lone Christmas tree on top of a cabinet from one of her room mates. Never mind that it’s April.  My mother was sleeping while a woman in the next bed kept crying and pleading to no one in particular; “Oh, I didn’t do nothing wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything correct. Please G-d help me up. Please G-d ayudame por favor. Please help me up. I have no shoes on. Nurse, nurse” at which point her cry turned into a wail. To keep from crying myself, I had to pretend I couldn’t hear her.

How has my mother managed to sleep with all the voices, noise, lights, blaring TV? I guess after all these years she’s figured out a way to block it all out. I wish I could say the same for me.  I am sensitive to certain voices, the sound of television commercials bother me, my cell phone ringing sometimes startles me and I have to switch it to vibrate, jack hammers make me cover my ears and run for my front door. I know I sound dramatic. I have exaggerated emotional responses to just about anything.  I have a friend who used to say I was dramatic. She’s right. My brain behaves differently than the average bear’s. Part of the damage that remains for me after watching my mother being abused when I was nine until fourteen; when she landed in intensive care after one night when the beatings went too far. I had pestered my father to bring my mother one of the leather jackets he sold. She liked pretty clothes. That night, a fight ensued between my mother and her second husband. We all have secrets from childhood. My secret for decades was I thought it was my fault she wound up in the hospital.

As the nurse came to help the crying woman up, I turned to my mother in her single bed. Her eyes were closed. She was sleeping quietly. Seemingly careless to our world. She seemed serene. She wasn’t suffering. But I was. My mother taught me forgiveness. I have come down a long road to get to where I no longer judge her as a bad mother. She wasn’t a bad mother. She fell in love with someone else after my father. She listened to her heart, not her head. I’m not different from her. Perhaps that’s why I judged her. I was still judging myself.  I’m not anymore. I love whom I love and I don’t care who judges me.

I fire off some photos from my camera. Direct, straight, honest, without pretense pictures. I don’t have a modicum of regret about expressing my feelings through my photos. These photos are meant to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I return home to view the pictures I’ve taken, I experience my mother again and I feel my emotions without fear. I was in denial for so long. My photos force me to accept the reality of her right here and now. I wonder when she suffers. I know she remembers so much. That’s why she speaks in her mother tongue of Spanish; she remembers her past. I miss never truly having her in my life. I have the courage to feel all of the sorrow I ran from all those decades. She’s influenced my life in every way but she doesn’t know that which makes me feel an intensified anguish that seems unbearable at times.

My mother doesn’t need a fancy home or clothes or car to feel good. When I brought her a cheeseburger from Fat Burger and I asked her “le gusta?” “Do you like it? “She answered “me encanta.” “I love it.”  She’s so in the moment it hurts because she mirrors back to me that I’m frequently not. She suffered to teach me to forgive her. It took me forty-seven years to meet the intuitive healer who would help me heal my anger at my mother for leaving.  The healer that I love like the mother I never had, a long lost sister and a friend all wrapped up in one. That’s another story.

I looked at her feet. Her toes are permanently bent down in a way that says decades of not walking. Her feet have not been touched, or rubbed or massaged in probably 41 years. I mean really touched, stroked, cared for. You know the way you rub someone’s feet when you really love them. Part of my sadness is I was not able to visit her let alone rub her feet for too long to admit.

I didn’t need to travel around the world to deepen my spirituality. My greatest teacher was in front of me my entire life. I just couldn’t see it was my mother;a true Bodhisattva. She forgave me for not visiting her all those years and she did that without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving. For me, forgiveness is when you care about the relationship more than your ego.

One of the nurses banged hard into my mother’s bed while trying to help the woman crying in the next bed. My thoughts were interrupted and my mother was awakened. I just shook my head in silence. She can’t even get in solid sleep, I thoughtI watched her open her eyes. I could see she was tired. She looked in front of her, couldn’t see it was me without her glasses, closed her eyes and fell back into sleep. After 31 years of living in that room, in that place that is her home, in that building, I suppose everything must make her tired.

This is my mother. No wonder sometimes I’m tired too.

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