He wanted to be a professional soccer player in Spain, and for a moment there, in his teens, when he played in Belgium and Germany, that dream seemed to become a reality. But things didn’t pan out that way for Kovi Konowiecki. Instead of dribbling across muddy fields in soggy shorts and knee high socks, he’s winning prizes for his photography. At 24 years old, and still in his Master’s Program in London, this Long Beach boy may very well have a different career ahead of him now, and his goals – pun intended – have had to drastically adapt to his new found talent. “Despite playing for many many years,” he resigns, “I think it’s safe to say that [soccer] won’t be happening so I guess I’ll have to opt for a photo project there instead.”
It all started with Bei Mir Bistu Shein, a series of portraits of Orthodox Jews in California, Israel and London. They caught the attention of the board at the National Portrait Gallery when Kovi sent his entry for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Prize. “There are so many things about the private life of Orthodox Jews that seem so ancient and archaic to us,” explains Kovi, “like not being able to use electricity on the Sabbath or give a woman a hug, but at the same time, they’re part of modern society and they interact with us. They ride the subway, they have cell phones. They exist in a liminal space and I think my photographs highlight this. The colors and floral background cause the photographs to take on a painting-like quality, highlighting the mysticism of the subjects and their association with a history and tradition that many may find unfamiliar. I think people that view the photos are drawn to this unfamiliarity, yet simultaneously identify with the subjects in the portraits.” He won third prize last week, and got some pretty impressive write-ups.
His new series, shown here, is different. It’s about “home”. Told through a story of portraits and places, Kovi describes a sentiment, rather than a location. “When I come home, Long Beach gives me all the feelings that a hometown should; the feeling that no matter how big the city is, everyone seems familiar— the feeling that no matter how much change occurs, there are certain things that never change. Childhood friends always seem to gather on the same street corner, the same golden hue hits the rooftops right before the sun goes down. Its uniqueness does not stem from the people who live there or the streets that comprise it. Rather, it’s the things that don’t stand out that make it like nowhere else for me—the beauty of familiarity that turns the mundane of one’s hometown into something special. It became clear to me that the feeling of home does not come from the place itself, but from being from the place.”
I won’t see Kovi for Thanksgiving. He’s back in London. I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Konowiecki’s, in particular his mom Mirit, who has become a close friend and is one of her son’s favorite subjects. They’re a friendly bunch of funny people with exquisite taste and a borderline offensive kind of humor. So on that note, I’d like to give thanks to my adoptive Long Beach family and let them know how much they matter to me. The kind of generosity and support they’ve shown me is rare and special, so I raise my glass and my turkey breast to them! Happy Thanksgiving!