Photographer Hannah Kozak is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this photo essay. From her 10 year book/project ‘He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard ’. To see Hannah’s body of work, click on any image.
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.
He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard A personal photo book by Hannah Kozak about domestic violence Publisher|FotoEvidence, a publishing house dedicated to documenting social injustice
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.
All images and text © Hannah Kozak
A personal photo book by Hannah Kozak about domestic violence
Publisher | FotoEvidence, a publishing house dedicated to documenting social injustice
By Hannah Kozak
Hannah’s Previous Contribution To Edge Of Humanity Magazine