Interview with Black and White photographer Hannah Kozak

Interview with Black and White photographer Hannah Kozak

Hannah Kozak was born to a Polish father and a Guatemalan mother in Los Angeles, California. At the age of ten, she was given a Kodak Brownie camera by her father, Sol, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and began instinctively capturing images of dogs, flowers, family and friends that felt honest and real. As a teenager growing up in Los Angeles, Hannah would sneak onto movie lots and snap photos on the sets of Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch and Family, selling star images to movie magazines and discovering a world that was far from reality.

While working in a camera store at the age of twenty, Hannah’s life changed when she met a successful stuntwoman named Victoria Vanderkloot who became her mentor and helped her start a career in stunts. For nearly twenty-five years, Hannah’s work provided the opportunity to work with notable directors such as Michael Cimino, David Lynch, Mike Nichols, Tim Burton and Michael Bay. She worked as a stunt double for celebrated stars like Cher, Angelina Jolie, Lara Flynn Boyle and Isabella Rossellini. On every set, Hannah took her camera to work, capturing candid, behind-the-scene pictures that penetrated the illusion of Hollywood magic.

Her wanderlust and career in the film business afforded Hannah the opportunity to travel from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru to Egypt, Italy, Israel and India, capturing images of far away lands and exploring the innocence and truth found in the faces of children from around the world.

Hannah has turned the camera on herself, her life and her world. She continues to look for those things that feel honest and real, using her camera as a means of exploring feelings and emotions. After decades of standing in for someone else, she now is in control of her destiny
and vision.

Hannah creates psychological and autobiographical photographs. Her subjects are the people and places that touch her emotionally. She has been photographing people and places for four decades. Photography has the power to heal and to help us through difficult periods, something Hannah Kozak knows first hand from personal experience.

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© Hannah Kozak

“I use my camera as a means of exploring my feelings and emotions. My photos are my emotional predicaments. When someone allows me to photograph them, they give me a piece of themselves that I can forever hold onto. In moments of melancholic desire and solitude, I can feel them again from the connection of our photos. My photographs are direct, honest and without pretense. I love natural light. Artificial lighting is a travesty of reality.

I think the artist’s job is to show us the parts of ourselves we keep hidden from others.
I create pictures of love, passion, hope, fear, abuse, heartbreak, acceptance, resurrection, rebirth. I paint life with light. I dream, hope, need and desire to create something about our world with my expression. Art mends what life painfully shatters.”

Hannah holds degrees in Spanish (B.A.) and Psychology (M.A.)

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© Hannah Kozak

How and when did you become interested in photography?

My father gave me a Kodak Brownie when I was ten years old and I began to navigate my world with a camera. Thus my life long love and passion for photography started. I was acutely aware that everyone I loved would be gone someday so I started to photograph my family and friends as a way to have a permanent record. I always loved fantasy and lost myself in books and later, photography. Decades later, I used my camera to make sense of chaos.

Is there any artist/photographer who inspired your art?

When I was ten years old, I didn’t know about other photographers but as an adult, one of my first inspirations was Ruth Bernhard. Her avoidance of allusions to gender and gender-specific roles made her a true artist for me. I also loved how Frida Kahlo turned all her pain into beauty with her art. I love the surrealism of Leonora Carrington, Gerrie Gutmann, Dorothea Tanning, Julia Thecla, Remedios Varo. Oh, and Louise Bourgeoi whom I’d describe as the Anne Sexton of confessional art. She painted the themes of betrayal, anxiety and loneliness. Her work is said to be autobiographical, stemming from the trauma of her childhood when she discovered her governess was her father’s mistress. This caused her need to understand double standards related to gender and sexuality, which appears in her work frequently. I love the intimacy of the tiny animals that Sylvia Fein placed into her paintings and Mark Ryden’s surrealism. Sylvia Plachy’s photography makes me laugh and cry. Melvin Sokolsky is a true artist. I was floored by Francesca Woodman’s photography when I discovered her. I flew into San Francisco twice to see her show at SFMOMA.

I work in black and white because it’s timeless and an immediately abstract medium. I find it easier to tell a story in black and white. For me, color beautifies and distracts.

How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph/series of photographs?

Most of my photography series have begun organically. My preparation depends on the series. For some series, I intentionally shoot with film in either my Nikon F4S or if I truly want to slow down, then I use my Rolleiflex twin lens. I find that film is robust, has more dimension and weight to it than the digital format. Film brings me back to my childhood world of truly intentional shooting. But it’s not blasphemy to shoot digital. I find a need for both analogue and digital. For street and travel photography, I tend to lean towards a Canon. My technique? My intuition and timing have been my guiding way.

Where is your photography going? What projects would you like to accomplish?

My photography is always moving towards completing my long-term projects. I started Pain and Loneliness after my marriage crumbled and collapsed. I continued that project nearly ten years later. I received the humbling honor of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award – 5th edition for Female Photographer of the Year for Nudes for this work. I enjoy multi platforms and have created a short video to accompany this work as well as a book.

I started He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard over five years ago. I had the good news to have been chosen as one of the finalists for the CDS/Honickman Duke University First Book Prize in Photography -2014 for this project. I am looking for a publisher for my long term book project and hope that since I was a finalist, somewhere out there is the perfect publisher for this work. I am also simultaneously creating a short video of this project as well.

I am working on a photography project and book about Michael Jackson and how he affected me. His creative genius was intoxicating.

I am working on a project called Survivor, about my father who survived eight Nazi forced labor camps. I’m planning to donate the silver gelatin prints to the Holocaust museum, once I complete my journeys to the camps. I have many other projects I am creating simultaneously. This is how I work: multiple projects at once. I am an autobiographical photographer; photographing people and places that touch me emotionally.


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