Tag Archives: photography

The Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland

While I was in Warsaw earlier this spring, I set out to photograph the world’s largest Jewish cemetery. With my Rolleiflex 2.8F, Holga 120N, and Fujifilm X-T2, I knew what I carried in my arsenal exactly what I would need to create the images I wanted to make.

© hannah kozak

I generally photograph my documentary work in black and white because the images appear less distracting and more timeless, but from past experiences in Buenos Aires, Argentina; La Paz, Bolivia; and Berlin, Germany; I knew I loved the look of cemeteries photographed in color. Color photography adds dimension and context to a scene. Green leaves, for example, can show a picture was taken in spring.

© hannah kozak

I prefer to shoot in film because it offers depth and layers to my photos.That being said, I still use my Fujifilm X-T2 for low light situations where I cannot achieve what I need with film. Most of all, I love shooting with film for the same reason I did as a ten-year-old girl: magic.

© hannah kozak

The moment I pushed open the renovated gate on Okopowa Street, I knew I was in for that kind of magic. Founded in 1806, the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw has 250,000 marked tombs set in 82 acres (33 hectares) of green grass with winding, uneven paths shaded by tall, slender trees. The cemetery is divided into separate areas for women and men, and Orthodox Jews are buried apart from reformed Jews. I was especially moved by the burial plots and graves of thousands of Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII and the partisans killed in the Warsaw Uprising.

© hannah kozak

I wandered for hours alone through the cemetery, noting how the trees seemed to have picked up on the sadness in the air. I was reminded of how I love the peace and meditative atmosphere of cemeteries, and was moved by the Jewish graves.

© hannah kozak

As a young girl, I hadn’t completely formulated what I was doing with photography, but I now understand that being in Jewish cemeteries helps me connect with my father’s side of the family—the family I never got to meet. The Jews buried in the Warsaw cemetery, unlike my father’s family, were given the decency of actual tombs and gravestones. His family; mother, father, both grandparents, and his seven siblings were all killed in the Holocaust.

© hannah kozak

Being in Poland and retracing my father’s steps through his hometown and the forced labor camps he survived surfaced emotions that are hard to put into words. I experienced waves of sadness and sorrow, but found balance and meaning through the blessings I have in my life, including being able to travel to Poland time and time again. I find meaning and peace in those sojourns to Poland. Every time I go, it feels as if I am piecing my life together one step at a time.

© hannah kozak

These photos are constant reminders that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and will continue to change with each breath. There’s something about walking through a cemetery alone, experiencing and internalizing the silence, that makes me reflect on how life is fragile and temporary. As I travel alone, it’s true, there are moments of profound loneliness, but they help put me in touch with my feelings, which help me create these photos. I went into the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw seeking spiritual, artistic, and emotional grounding, and I attempted to capture the emotions and images I took away from that experience through my photographs.

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

The tall, skinny trees in Poland.

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak

Symbolic graves for the Holocaust victims

© hannah kozak

“I don’t take photos, I make them.” – Hannah Kozak, 2017

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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


4th edition of the Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary Photography – Berlin Foto Biennale 2016

4th Edition of Biennial of Fine Art & Documentary Photography

Throughout October 2016 Berlin welcomes once again the largest German festival for photography–the 7th European Month of Photography. The Grand opening of the 4th Biennial is at the elegant Palazzo Italia, situated in the historic heart of of Berlin as Associated Partner of the EMOP Berlin the first edition of the Berlin Foto Biennale.

© hannah kozak

Olivia always finds her way!


I have the honor of being one of the finalists in the 7th Edition of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Female Photographers in the Nude and Figure category. One of my photos from my Pain and Loneliness series was chosen to be on exhibit.

@ hannah kozak

Pain and Loneliness 33

I’m also honored to be included in the special section about the Holocaust and Second Generation with works by Aliza Augustine, Hannah Kozak, Sebastian Holzknecht, Beth Bursting, Vienne Rea and Quyen Pfeiffer. I was also given the honor of 1st prize documentary photo from the series He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard and 1st prize children’s category. Show opened on October 6, 2016 and will run through October 30.

@ hannah kozak

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor Triptych
by hannah kozak.

Five of my images from my ongoing series–He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard were finalists in the 8th Edition of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award.

@ hannah kozak

He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

@ hannah kozak

He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

@ hannah kozak

He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

@ hannah kozak

He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

© hannah kozak

He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard

Here are some other photographer’s works from the Binnial 2016.

© hannah kozak

Marea Reed, Australia
Mareareed.com
Cooling the Blood, 2014

Mareareed.com

© hannah kozak

Boguslaw Maslak,
bobbyart.com
United Kingdom
Spirit of Ganges, 2013

Bobbyart.com

© hannah kozak

Isabel Karl-Herunter
Austria
Back to Paradise, 2014

© hannah kozak

Marilyn Maxwell,
United States
MarilynMaxwellphoto.com
Long Reach, 2014, Tanzania

Marilynmaxwellphoto.com

© hannah kozak

Chris Scavotto

© hannah kozak

Aline Smithson,
Alinesmithson.com
Lucy in Turquoise, 2013

Alinesmithson.com

© hannah kozak

Sebastian Holzknecht,
sebastianholzknecht.com
Jacek, from the series “Not Guilty”

sebastianholzknecht.com

© hannah kozak

Andrea Star Reese,
United States
Andreastarreese.com
Disorder 01, 2010

andreastarreese.com

©hannah kozak

Steve McCurry,
Walking on High Ground, Bangladesh, 1983

© hannah kozak

Karmen Corak, Italy
CL1, 2014, Spain

https://www.facebook.com/karmen.corak

4th Edition of Biennial of Fine Art & Documentary Photography


Warsaw in Winter part two

Warsaw in Winter part two

Photography is a meditation for me. After spending time working on set surrounded by a crew of nearly one hundred people twelve hours a day, for months, I find that photography allows me quiet to recharge my soul. I cannot tidy up my father’s past: I am in Poland to continue my project on the eight forced labor camps he was in. But, before I begin my work, I allow myself to wander about Warsaw; one of my favorite cities in Europe.

© hannah kozak

Old Town in Warsaw, Poland
1/280 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800 23.4mm

© hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 16mm,
1/280 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 16 mm
1/125 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 16mm
1/125 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 16mm
1/450 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 16mm
1/450 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 17mm
1/600 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

Fuji X-T1, 35.3 mm 1/450 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

Fuji X-T1, 35.3 mm
1/450 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 800

The oldest part of Warsaw is Old Town; bounded by the bank of the Vistula river along with Grodzka, Mostowa, and Podwale Streets. I made these photos while wandering through the heart of the area which is Old Town Market Place. From the surrounding streets I saw medieval architecture while the area is full of restaurants, cafes and shops. And, wherever I travel, I plan on visiting UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites; and Warsaw is one of them. More than 85% of Old Town was deliberately destroyed by Nazi troops during the war. Warsaw is a near-total reconstruction of a span of history from the 13th to the 20th century. I love watching people while walking around.

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 17.6 mm
1/250 sec @ f 2.8, ISO 6400

@ hannah kozak

Fuji X-T1, 24.2mm
1/15 sec @ f 6.4, ISO 400

The Holocaust committed by the Nazis turned this country, where most of the European Jews used to live and where their culture used to flourish, into a massive grave. This is why initiatives to revive Jewish culture in Poland is so important.

Marek Belka

Warsaw in Winter part two


Why I’m Lighting Yahrzeit Candles on Christmas – My Father’s Hands & Feet

Fine Art Photographer shares intimate moments from death

W. Eugene Smith said photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought. A writer writes about someone’s struggles as an act of compassion and caring.  Giving shape to something painful helps us to process our grief by sharing it. Sharing words and photos decreases the burden we are carrying. By sharing my feelings and photos, perhaps I reach another person who is or has carried the burden of grief. Just as I take refuge in travel, I find healing in sharing. Author Dorothy Allison said if you don’t break out in a sweat of fear of what you write, you have not gone far enough. This one made me sweat.

My father began to leave his physical body after only two nights in the hospital. His last request was a black bean burrito, no guacamole, from Poquito Mas. I brought it to him for lunch, not knowing that it would be his last meal. Watching my father die in a sterile hospital seemed like a privilege compared to how his entire family was killed at Auschwitz and Treblinka by gassing.I felt blessed I could have the opportunity to mourn my father in a way he never could mourn his family in Poland, because he never saw any of their bodies after they were killed.

I was witness to the process of his body shutting down. At any given moment, either one or more of my brothers was in the room or my sister or niece, nephew, and the endless stream of nurses with machines to keep checking him so billing could continue even after he was heading through the astral plane. My sister refused to leave because he asked her not to leave him alone. She slept in the bed next to his. I would go home to sleep and no matter when I returned, she was in the room.   As my sister held his hand, I was pained by the thinness of his skin. I kept caressing the paper-thin skin on his arm, as if my rubbing could keep his arm from bleeding more. I had one-way conversations with my father. I kept telling him it was okay for him to go to G-d. I knew he could hear me.

As I always did in life, I continued to make photos as his death was imminent. The process was exhausting and while some may view the photos as callous, for myself it was more that I wanted one last look at my father, the man who taught me to stand on my own two feet. From a higher perspective than judgment, these photos are about love.  I was attempting, in my humble way, to make sense of his departure from my world and his. By documenting my father’s death, I was reaching out for one last moment of immortality, trying to make sense of his journey back home to G-d.

© hannah kozak

I saw my father reach for someone that was not part of this world. In that moment, with that reach, my father showed me there is more than just this life. Photography is death of a moment.Death is the eidos of the photograph. According to Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida, the book he wrote in 1979 hailed as the “subtle, most original, most sympathetic literary intelligence of the age” a photograph is a return of the dead.Death is the great equalizer.  We turn into energy and disappear. My father gave me a great gift before he left his physical body. I was on his left side, my sister was on his right. He reached out past me, towards the ceiling, the heavens. “Grab his hand, Hannah” my sister said. “He’s reaching for you.” “No I said” immediately and without hesitation. “He’s not reaching for me.”

My oldest brother and my sister were in the room with my father and I at the end. His hands and feet grew swollen as his skin both softened and wrinkled. On Christmas Eve, I watched his inhale become short and labored until there was barely an inhale left and mainly his exhale. Then, on Christmas morning, the final inhale that lasted too long, a labored gurgled exhale, which made my sister jump, and his soul left the space. Silence. The machine helping him breathe was still inhaling and exhaling for him. He was not. “What do we do” my brother asked to anyone who might have an answer. I said “Don’t call the nurses yet. I need a moment alone with him.”

© hannah kozak

© hannah kozak


It was an honor to be with him until the end. I experienced a surreal and grounding experience. Hospice nurse, Maggie Callanan has witnessed more than two thousand deaths and says “dying people have the uncanny ability to choose the moment of death, and it’s not uncommon for them to spare those they love the most or feel protective of by waiting until those people leave the room.”  I’ve heard so many stories of people waiting until their loved ones left the room before they die. Not my father, he really never liked being alone. Leaning into my father, I smelled decay. I gently removed his blue and white socks off his swollen feet and tucked them into my purse, where I found them ten days later, rolled up in a ball.  I feel sad, numb, but also relief that he isn’t suffering any more.
I made some photos of his hands as he was in the hospital, as well as over the years. I loved my father’s hands and feet.
© hannah kozak 24 April 2010

©hannah kozak

25 April 2010

25 April 2010

27 April 2012

© hannah kozak

19 May 2012

27 June 2012

27 June 2012

27 June 2012

27 June 2012

26 June 2012

26 June 2012

25 Sept 2012

25 Sept 2012

I often wondered about his hands. Those strong hands dug potatoes with two friends from the barracks in the hard, dirt ground, in the dark, as he was a prisoner who worked in eight Nazi camps. The next night he decided not to go out  when his friends started to leave. Not only were his friends caught but their punishment for stealing potatoes was death.  He told me about taking his hand and wiping the back of his neck, seeing it filled with crawling vermin from the filthy conditions in the forced labor camps he lived in.

His feet, I wondered about the towns he walked in Poland alone, after a year in the hospital, looking for his family after he was liberated from Dernau on May 8, 1945.  I can’t imagine what it felt like to know there wasn’t one family member or friend on the face of the earth who knew who he was. No one who remembered one of his birthdays, no one to recall a favorite story with, no one to share a “remember when we ditched school” laugh.

My photographs are the voice that continues after my father’s death. In some way, my photos keep him alive. They remind me of the strong wings he had to develop because he had to learn to fly solo. I feel honored my father choose me to walk with him to the end of his road on the earth plane and I found beauty in the midst of my grief. The shroud of death followed my father throughout his life but his strength and tenacity created rebirth and resurrection. There was no closure from the losses of his entire family during the war but his hope kept him moving forward until it was time for him to go back home, one more time. His death, a learning process and experience he left behind, for those who will follow someday.

©hannah kozak

(The opening lines of James Fenton’s A German Requiem)

A German Requiem – James Fenton

It is not what they built.

It is what they knocked down.

It is not the houses. It is the spaces in between the houses.

It is not the streets that exist. It is the streets that no longer exist.

It is not your memories which haunt you.

It is not what you have written down.

It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.

What you must go on forgetting all your life.

And with any luck oblivion should discover a ritual.

You will find out that you are not alone in the enterprise.

Yesterday the very furniture seemed to reproach you.

Today you take your place in the Widow’s Shuttle.

“There are too many of us and we are all too far apart.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Fine Art Photographer shares intimate moments from death


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


Sylvia Plachy’s photography memoir: Self Portrait with Cows Going Home

Sylvia Plachy’s photography memoir: Self Portrait with Cows Going Home

@ Sylvia Plachy

Sylvia Plachy – Nightmare

Part of my desire to visit Budapest was to see where a photographer who is particularly dear to my heart was born. Sylvia Plachy lived in Hungary with her family until they were forced to leave because of the revolution in Europe when she was thirteen years old. Her story resonated with me because of her Eastern European childhood, which reminded me of my father’s childhood, growing up in Poland. She crossed the border with her parents from Hungary to Austria with a small suitcase and teddy bear in 1956. And, I loved imagining her arrival to the United States in 1958 – after two years as refugees in Vienna, carrying only her teddy bear and a larger suitcase.

I found a copy of Sylvia Plachy’s: Self-Portrait with Cows Going Home, during one of my late night Internet searches on photographers. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put the memoir down. I stayed up all night reading it, and was reminded of my own youth – staying up late to read stories about relatable people in faraway lands from my rollaway bed. I was drawn to it with intensity: the depth, humor and sadness. I stayed up nights for weeks, reading her memoir and studying her photographs. Her black and white images stirred my emotions making me both laugh and cry. I’m always drawn to old school photographers who come from a film background like Melvin Sokolsky, Diane Arbus and Douglas Kirkland. Sylvia’s photography deeply resonates with me – taking me on a journey of quiet, space, solitude and companionship.

Sylvia Plachy - Self Portrait with Cows Coming Home

Sylvia Plachy – Self Portrait with Cows Coming Home

The first photo in Self Portrait with Cows is one that her father made of her when she was 13 years old in Vienna. She’s in the snow and there is a building and a tree in the background. It’s a simple photo that begs so many questions. To me, a photo that asks questions, but doesn’t always give the answers is beautiful. This photo does exactly that.

Sylvia Plachy in Vienna

Sylvia Plachy in Vienna

In her memoir, Sylvia reflects on pre and post Communism and I adore how she captures the somber mood of that period with not only her writing but also with her photography of landscapes and people. Eight years after leaving Hungary, she returned with her camera to continue her passion for her homeland and its’ people.

The first two page spread in her book is called Translvanian woods, 2001. I felt the silence of solitude. I wondered about the fog that seemed to create a translucent space all around.

Part of the reason I feel connected to Sylvia Plachy is because, in some ways, she reminds me of my father. He had to start all over again as an immigrant in America, after losing his entire family in Poland to the Holocaust. He survived 8 Nazi forced labor camps and he was the only survivor of his 8 siblings, parents and grandparents. I am drawn to her art because she followed her heart and dream of being a photographer and showcases such humanity in her photography.

I made my way in the pouring rain to Mai Mano House at Nagymezo utca 20 on the Pest side. I was tired and I still haven’t found a cure for jet lag but I didn’t want to wait another moment to see her art. The building has wooden hand rails and stained glass. What a perfect treat for me to see a Sylvia Plachy exhibition for my first time. It is an exceptional building. I was impressed with how the show was organized with the pamphlet so one can walk around, self-guided and particularly, I could gather all the details I craved: the names and the years she made the pictures. It was well thought out and I love the title: When Will It Be Tomorrow? This was a question she used to ask when she was a child.

© hannah kozak

Mai Manó Ház
Budapest, Hungary

Here are some of my favorite photos from her show:

@ Sylvia Plachy

Groundhog, 1986
Silver gelatin print
37.5 x 37.5

@ Sylvia Plachy

Sylvia Plachy,
Lake Washington, Mississippi, 2009
Archival pigment print
26.5 x 72 cm

© hannah kozak

Sylvia Plachy
My Mother at My Father’s Grave, 1980
I find this one quieting, eerie, reflective, realistic and haunting.

@ Sylvia Plachy

Sylvia Plachy –
Flea Market Vendor’s Daughter, 1984
Silver gelatin print,
39 x 39 cm

@ Sylvia Plachy

Sylvia Plachy –
La Puta Vida, a play, Zselatinos ezust,
Silver gelatin print,
37.5 x 27.5 cm

@ Sylvia Plachy

Sylvia Plachy,
Dog on a Thin String, Moscow, 2000
Archival pigment print,
58 x 21.5 cm

I was drawn to the showcases with the photos of her son, actor Adrian Brody. My G-d, what a beautiful child he was and is. My favorite photo is a black and white image from when he is a child wearing a scarf in the snow. She captures so much emotion in the photo and he looks endearingly precious.

I also loved the black and white photograph of her son with a cigarette, and cat and the one with a puppy in his pocket! Oh my goodness it was darling and fun and made me wonder if it was a family pet.

It was a treat to watch the video showing her with her Leica M-6, her Rolleiflex 2.8F, and Hasselblad. I do feel that all great pictures have ghosts in them as she says. We also agree that the type of camera you are drawn to matters because each camera does something different. Self Portrait with Cows has even more meaning to me now that I have been in Budapest.

Plachy has succeeded in finding the meaning, the essence of life, that she sees with her photography. I am grateful to have discovered her. She is a true artist.

Goethe wrote that the hardest thing is to see what is in front of our eyes. Why I love Sylvia Plachy’s art so much is she does this so beautifully. She sees what is in front of her eyes. She was born with an innate talent and was savvy enough to put it to good use. I adore Sylvia Plachy and her art.

© hannah kozak

Hannah Kozak – Self Portrait @ Mai Manó Ház –

One of my favorite Sylvia Plachy epigrams:

“Flower-language,(virág-nyelv in Hungarian), is what speaking euphemistically was called. In totalitarian countries our lack of power made poets or liars of us all.”

Sylvia Plachy’s photographs used by permission.

Sylvia Plachy’s photography memoir: Self Portrait with Cows Going Home


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