Hannah Kozak: He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard
What goes on behind closed doors can often impact a family for life. Domestic violence is pervasive and insidious and those traumas seep deeply into all aspects of the every day. Photographer Hannah Kozak has spent the last decade creating work about violence that permeated her family and her life, and after ten years of focusing her camera and her emotions on her mother’s saga, she is bringing the project into book form with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. The book to be published in hardcover by FotoEvidence, a publisher of documentary photography focused on human rights and social justice. I hope you consider supporting this project.
“I began photographing my mother as a way to process my feelings towards a mother I had never truly known. I hoped by photographing her I could bring closure to an open wound I had my entire life. In the process, I grew to love my mother and discover the power of forgiveness. This project, “He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard,” is the story of our reconciliation.
“The genesis of this project goes back to 1969. I was nine years old and my mother left my father for another man. From the ages of nine to fourteen, I witnessed my mother’s second husband abuse her on the weekends I spent with them. In 1974, I walked down the long, quiet hallway at the UCLA Medical Center and turned the corner to peek into her room. She was unconscious in bed. Her life, my life, my siblings lives, and my father’s life all changed from that moment on.The man she left us for beat her so badly that she suffered permanent brain damage. After caring for her for seven years, my father moved my mother into an assisted living facility at the age of forty one, where she lived for thirty-five years. She has spent the last four years at a different facility. Thirty-nine years in two aging facilities. “
Hannah Kozak was born to a Polish father and a Guatemalan mother in Los Angeles, CA. At the age of ten, she was given a Kodak Brownie camera by her father, Sol, a survivor of eight Nazi forced labor 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 nearly five decades. Photography has the power to heal and to help us through difficult periods, something Hannah Kozak knows first hand from personal experience.
He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard
I began photographing my mother in December, 2009 as a way to process my feelings towards a mother I had never truly known and hoped by photographing her, I could bring closure to an open wound I had my entire life. In the process, I grew to love my mother and this project, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, was born. My goal is to publish this project into a book. I think her story could inspire other women to leave an abusive relationship, before it’s too late.
Today, my mother is my muse, but our relationship hasn’t always been so simple.
When I was nine, my mother left our family after falling in love with another man. 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 at the age of forty one, where she still lives today. Of her six children, only my younger sister has visited her regularly over the decades.
I have early, fond memories of my mother as a beautiful, passionate, vivacious, and fiery Guatemalan Sophia Loren. But since she left, I have had tremendous feelings of abandonment and rage towards her. Her actions led me to judge her as an impetuous, selfish, reckless and 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 right hand gnarled 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 pain ignored does not disappear and over time I came to realize our relationship needed healing. Working as a stuntwoman of 25 years, I broke both feet jumping out of a helicopter onto the tallest building in downtown L.A. That time forced me to go inward, where I made the decision to return to school. I had to hurt so much that something broke inside of me. Thankfully, through graduate work in Spiritual Psychology and work I did with a healer, I was able to dissolve the judgments I carried about my mother and myself and begin to forge a relationship with her.
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 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 our 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.
My mother is a symbol of perseverance. Even though she suffered permanent disability from domestic violence; she never lost her kindness, belief in love and hope. As my mother’s body deteriorated; her right hand turning in more, her soul flourished. What happened to my mother also fractured my persona yet we both grew from the trauma and she refused to be covered with a veil of pity. She is comfortable in silence and is fully present in the moment. I never planned to show these photos when I made them but I’ve learned that by sharing myself and my process of healing, that in turn helps others on their path to healing.
This is an ongoing project with the goal of bringing my mother back to Guatemala for the first time since she left fifty-six years ago. No one from her original family there has seen her since she moved, including a brother with whom she was once very close. Her only sister, whom she hadn’t seen in fifteen years, died last year so it’s more important than ever before for her to see the family that is left in Guatemala. I believe the story will continue to develop when I photograph her and her family in her homeland.
The elusive need, motive or tendency at the root of self-expression is truth. May these photos inspire some else to leave an abusive relationship before it’s too late.
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
Focus on Ecuadorian Photographers: Daniela Beltrán B.December 2nd, 2021
Focus on Ecuadorian Photographers: Johis AlarcónNovember 29th, 2021
Benjamin Dimmitt: Art + Science Award – Honorable MentionNovember 12th, 2021
Bremner Benedict: Art + Science Award – Honorable MentionNovember 11th, 2021