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

5th Edition of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award – Female Photographer of the Year -Nudes

5th Edition of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award – Female Photographer of the Year, Hannah Kozak

I have been given the humbling honor and exciting news that I have been chosen as the recipient of the Female Photographer of the Year for the 5th Edition of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for nudes. This is an international award sponsored by the Worldwide Photography Gala Awards. Five of my photographs from my Pain and Loneliness series were chosen to be on exhibition at the 3rd International Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary Photography. Show to open on September 18th – November 9th, 2014 at the Municipal Museum of Malaga, Spain; the home city of Picasso.

3rd Biennial Invitation
3rd Biennial Invitation

Julia Margaret Cameron was one of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography. She received her first camera as a gift from her only daughter, one of her six children and began making photos when she was forty-eight years old. Her photos combined an unorthodox technique, a deeply spiritual sensibility and a Pre-Raphaelite-inflected aesthetic.”From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.” Julia Margaret Cameron was self-assured in her art, she didn’t waiver even when she was condemned by some of her contemporaries for not following rules, even when her photographs were not universally admired, especially by fellow photographers. Cameron dismissed the condemnation of the photographic establishment. She is proof that it is never too late to find a passion, pursue it without fear and not concentrate on what others think about your art. I love how she purposely choose soft focus and long exposures that allowed the subjects’ slight movement to register in her pictures, truly giving the photos more breath, more life. She also loved literature and poetry.

My father, who survived the Holocaust by not following rules and getting in line with all the other camp inmates who walked down a road and were machine gunned down, gave me his Hawkeye Brownie camera when I was ten years old. I discovered one of my greatest passions and have always believed rules were made to be broken especially in art. These particular images are from my Pain and Loneliness series. If you’d like to see more of this series, please see this link.

Pain and Loneliness

© hannah kozak © hannah kozak © hannah kozak © hannah kozak © hannah kozak

Here is the announcement of the 1st, second and third prize winners in the Nude category:

5th Edition of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award – Female Photographer of the Year, Hannah Kozak

Photography: analog vs digital – I want my Tri-X please

A camera was an instrument where I would load a roll of film. I loved watching the film wind advance. I was just learning about lighting 40 years ago. As I’d compose I’d set the shutter speed and f-stop, focus and I’d click my shutter at the exact moment my intuition said to.  There was no firing off of 10 digital images to have to sort through later. I made one photo. I savored the slowing down of life’s gentle moments.  I loved the sound of my finger pressing on the shutter button. I loved the excitement of waiting to get the film developed, or a proof sheet if I was shooting black and white. Lot of loves in this paragraph. That’s because I love photography.

Now, a camera is no longer a camera.  Cameras capture video, sound, even GPS coordinates along with more metadata that you could ever possibly need or care about. As we’ve seen the changes in photography take us from analog to digital, this physical medium has changed. I turned digital in 2004 only because I was working on a movie and that demanded digital images. I feel that I’m almost a victim of the digital age which is probably why my obsession with buying photography books has doubled recently. I know books are going to be relics someday. I have returned to film because I want something tangible not an image stored in The Cloud.

I am saddened that the film industry is in its final throes and can only hope that Kodak will continue to produce my favorite film of all time; Tri-X. I love the speed, latitude and sharpness and don’t want to be alive to find out Kodak will no longer produce this film.

I’ve heard that Kodak was blowing up their own buildings years ago.  Since 2003, Eastman Kodak has closed 130 plants and 130 laboratories. I know we’re not supposed to be attached to anything and that change is inevitable.

I’ve been thinking about how as a photographer I would make my pictures and have them printed on paper or film and now it’s all about data stored in The Cloud. As part of my reflection, I have returned to shooting film. If photography is about capturing time and space, how will this change in viewing photography on a whole? I used to call myself a photographer. Now I’m a “multi media artist.”  I have learned how to create movies with voice over, music, images in Final Cut Pro X. I could never quite wrap my arms around Final Cut Pro 7.  I’ve learned various software like Blurb and A & I, to self publish my own photography books. With my two original passions being books and photography, this is perhaps the greatest part of the technological advances we’ve made. Creating my own photography books has kept me up endless nights.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas to visit my father, I had my trusty, old film camera with me. I decided to go with Ilford Delta 3200 because I wanted the intentional grain and the exposure latitude is tremendous. It’s actual ASA rating is 1000 but I pushed to 3200 intentionally.  I smile when people talk about image noise, the digital equivalent of film grain for analogue cameras. I love the old-fashioned, grainy look of early film. Bring on the noise.

I fell in love with this little puppies face as I stopped at a favorite spot on that long, desert road Highway 15 so I stuck my hand in the puppies mouth. The owner noticing my camera, quickly figured out I was a photographer or maybe it was my Michael Jackson tshirt, and asked me to pay him for making this photo.

Roadside puppy by hannah kozak

The clouds didn’t have the nerve to ask though. I always loved backlight but there is something magical about shooting right into the sun.

Clouds en route to Las Vegas by hannah kozak

In October 1840, Hippolyte Bayard made a portrait of himself in his famous “Self Portrait as a Drowned Man”.  This is a landmark image not only because he’s pointing the camera at himself but also because it’s an imaginary situation. It’s no mystery why photographers like Pedro Meyer, Felix Nadar, Francesca Woodman, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, all loved self portraiture. I truly believe when I turn the camera on myself, there are no masks, nothing to hold back.

Self portrait One by hannah kozak
Self portrait two by hannah kozak
Self portrait three by hannah kozak

“Make haste,

Time flies,

Rome perished,

So wilt thou.”

18th Century stone column