Photography has the power to heal and to help us through difficult periods, something Hannah Kozak knows first hand from personal experience. Hannah is an autobiographical photographer. Her subjects are the people and places that touch her emotionally. With degrees in Spanish (B.A.) and Psychology (M.A.), Hannah spent many years with camera in hand as she worked as a stunt double, traveling the globe with incredible directors.
But it’s a project that is close to home that has been difficult, yet important to explore. Forgiveness and Compassion takes Hannah on an emotional journey that in the end, helps her find peace of mind and a way to move forward. She hopes the series can help others who have struggled or are struggling with the emotional effects from loss and abuse.
Forgiveness and Compassion: When I was nine, my mother abandoned my family to have an affair. The man she left us for turned out to be violent; he beat her so badly that she suffered permanent brain damage and had to be moved into an assisted living facility where she still lives today. Of her five children, only my younger sister has visited her regularly over the years.
I have early, fond memories of my mother as a beautiful, passionate, vivacious, and fiery, Guatemalan Sophia Loren. But since she left us, I have had tremendous feelings of abandonment and rage towards her. Her actions led me to judge her as impetuous, selfish, reckless and a negligent mother. I resented what she did to herself and to her family. I carried so much anger, yet whenever I saw her, I was overcome with pity and sadness. Just looking at her gnarled hand from the brain damage brought forth more emotion than I could bear. For these reasons, I have virtually ignored my mother in an attempt to distance myself from my own pain.
But the pain remained, and it became clear to me that our relationship needed healing. Thankfully, through the graduate work I did in Spiritual Psychology and the work I did with a healer, I was able to dissolve the judgments I carried about her and myself, and begin to forge a relationship with her. On this road to acceptance, I experience my raw emotions through the safe distance of a camera lens. I feel our connection without fear as I create photos meant to take me out of my comfort zone. These photos tell my mother’s story of isolation, loneliness, abuse, connection, compassion, forgiveness, family, humanity, grace, joy and above all, love.
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 decades without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving me and my family. Forgiveness happens when you care more about the love in a relationship than the logic of your ego. I no longer pity my mother. She continually inspires me teaching me to live by my heart, not my head. The love I feel for her has broken my heart wide open.
This is an ongoing project with the ultimate goal of returning with my mother to Guatemala for the first time since she left fifty-three years ago. No one from her original family in Guatemala has seen her since she moved, including a brother she was once very close with. It’s been over fifteen years since her only sister has seen her. I believe the story will continue to reveal itself when I photograph her and her family in her homeland.
At the age of forty-one, over thirty years ago, my mother began living in the facility. A few months ago I asked my mother, “Que quieres”? “what would you like”? “Que todo la gente este bien.” Without hesitation she answered, “May all people be well.”
A few days ago I asked her a question I’ve asked of myself. ” que te gustaria, mas que nada en el mundo”? “What do you want more than anything in the whole world”? “que todos nos queramos.” “That everyone love each other.” To which I whole-heartedly agree.
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