“I am interested in communities and individuals that exist in a liminal state of belonging and abandonment; communities that are neither here nor there”
Kovi Konowiecki began his professional life playing football in Europe. He turned to photography to document his surroundings, and shed light on aspects of his identity that he did not quite understand. His focus has shifted from portraits of orthodox Jews – a series partially created in pursuit of learning about his heritage – to individuals living liminally between belonging and isolation.
Last year, Konowiecki’s portrait of identical twins Dick and Clark won a place in the Portrait of Britain exhibition, and his photograph of Antonia and Franka, also twins, earned a place in the first ever Portrait of Britain book. In 2016, Konowiecki was also part of the inaugural Portrait of Britain, and his winning image was featured among 100 others as part of the award’s first public exhibition.
Konowiecki has since been selected for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, and has exhibited his work in a group show in California. He is now preparing for a solo exhibition this Spring in Portugal. His first monograph, Borderlands, will be released at the beginning of next year. Below, BJP-onlinespeaks to Konowiecki about Borderlands, his chance meeting with Dick and Clarke, and finding beauty in the mundane.
Why did you choose to enter last year’s Portrait of Britain?
Portrait of Britain is where everything came together in terms of photography. I first won the award several years ago. It was amazing to see my photograph across numerous screens and tube stations on my daily commute.
Photography exhibitions are usually pretty intimate, but Portrait of Britain allows viewers to engage with photography in a different way. I loved being part of an exhibition with such a wide-ranging audience.
Can you tell us about the picture you entered? What did you want to capture about your subject and modern Britain?
I took the portrait of twins Dick and Clark a few years ago when I was living in London. I met them while walking near my apartment, after seeing them on the opposite side of the road. Their sense of togetherness was fascinating. I asked to take a photograph of them, and Dick was kind enough to let me inside his apartment.
Dick lives in London and Clark travels from his home in New York to visit his twin brother once a year. I took a photograph of them holding a portrait of their grandmother, and we sat and chatted for a few hours.
What are your key interests as a photographer? How do you explore your heritage through your work?
People are the driving force behind my work. I began my practice using portraiture as a way to document the things around me, and to shed light on different aspects of my identity. Typically, I start a project with a group of people or place in mind, and I allow my instinct to take over once I begin taking photographs.
Portraiture is the most prominent aspect of my work. I am interested in communities and individuals that exist in a liminal state of belonging and abandonment; communities that are neither here nor there.
Can you tell me about your latest project Borderlands?
Some of my projects are intensely thought out and researched, while others come together without any real intention. Borderlands is the latter.
The project brings together photographs taken in California, Mexico and Israel. I began noticing similarities between many of the photographs I was taking, both visually and thematically. By piecing together these fragments, I found parallels between the people I was photographing, all of whom occupied transitional states between belonging and isolation.
The project is about physical and internal borders that can be disruptive, seeking to connect these disruptive human emotions with physical borders that exist in our surroundings. Ultimately, it is about figuring out how to cross these boundaries.
What was it like to win Portrait of Britain?
It was very exciting to know that my work was being seen by millions of people across the UK. Many of my friends sent snapshots of my photographs on bus stops and train stations on their way to work, which was really special. Having my photographs published in the first Portrait of Britain photo book was also particularly amazing, as it allowed people to take something physical home, which they can always open and go back to.
How has the award helped boosted your career?
Since my inclusion in last year’s Portrait of Britain, I have been part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London, as well as part of a group show at Rose Gallery in Santa Monica, California. I have also been busy making new work, and editing and sequencing my photographs for two new books.
Portrait of Britain has been a great platform for me. People seeing my work in the exhibition has lead to conversations with other artists and photographers, and has opened doors for me with different curators and publishers.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering Portrait of Britain 2019?
It is important to remember that often the most beautiful and interesting subjects are those that are closest to you. I would encourage photographers to try to find beautiful and captivating moments in the mundane and everyday.