Kovi Konowiecki (b.1992) was born in Long Beach, California, and is currently based between Long Beach and Mexico City. He holds a BA in Media Communications from Wake Forest University and an MA in Photography from University of the Arts London. After playing professional soccer in Europe, he turned to photography as a way to document the things around him and shed light on different aspects of his identity. Kovi was selected to be a part for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in both 2016 and 2018, and was the first ever nominee to have two images shortlisted for the first place prize. He also also been featured and published on platforms such as i-D, British Journal of Photography and The Guardian, amongst many others. He was selected to be a Red Hook Labs Artist in 2018 and has exhibited his work in spaces such as ROSEGALLERY (Santa Monica, CA) and The National Portrait Gallery in London. In 2018, Kovi cofounded a small publication, Mula Press, to explore his love for book making and to publish personal projects and special artist editions.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Borderlands
Borderlands explores the geographical and emotional margins of society and the mind through a poetic exploration of flow, movement, transit, place, emotion and migration.
Despite what the title may suggest, Borderlands is not political—rather, it draws from personal experience. I have traveled since a young age, moving back and forth between California, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East, where the very first photograph of this project was taken.
In part, Borderlands has been a happy accident, inspired by the frequent travels that nourished a sharp eye for the liminal types of communities to which I am drawn: people I have met in my wanderings, passersby in the street, a horse trained in a small Arab village, and untended gardens. Borderlands can be an emotion, a psychological place. It can be a nowhere place.
Hardly belonging to any social class or single geography, the subjects live in a borderland of their own, a borderland that transforms into places that are nowhere but anywhere, including desolate landscapes and portraits framing a moment in a single life that create a sense of both fracture and reunion. Borderlands grew out of the idea of having these different works which, although they may not share a common geography, have strong emotional connections. The unscripted nature of the work has an impact on its style, in particular through its variety of genres—from landscape photography to portraiture—to which the images of Borderlands belong. These various forms of expression serve as a way to materialize the ideas at the core of the project.
Beyond the emotional bond, however, is a strong sense of composition, as sequence and patterns become part of the story. Portraits and landscapes and notions of absence and presence are all magnified by the metaphors and allusions the project plays with. Drawn to the out-of-the-ordinary, the photographs allow our imaginations to roam free, offering glimpses of beauty from an outer world, unknown yet familiar - the borderland of our mind.
The photographs were taken from 2016-2019 in Watts (CA), Long Beach (CA), the California desert, Mexico and Israel.
When and where did Borderlands begin?
Borderlands (working title) came together in a much different way than most of my work. I usually have a specific geography or group of individuals in mind when I am beginning to think about a project, and I use that as a framework to guide my intuition. However, Borderlands has been more of a process of gathering and fitting fragments together that on the surface may not have apparent relationships. Aside from being drawn to similar types of communities in different parts of the world, I began to notice that there were intuitive relationships amongst any of the of the photographs I was making throughout my travels. I created the first photographs of the project in the Middle East (although I did not know at the time that I was making a project), and continued between Mexico and California.
Borderlands grew out of the idea of having these different works which, although they may not share a common geography, have strong emotional and compositional connections. Rather than setting out to photographic something specific, Borderlands became about places that are simultaneously nowhere but anywhere. On a personal level, working on this project has taught me that using personal experiences and emotions to guide intuition in my photo making practice can be a powerful thing.
Where do you see this project going?
From the initial stages of the project I knew that it was meant for a book-- the interaction of the images on the physical page has been the best way for me to gain a true understanding of the work. You can place two images side by side on a screen, and gather certain relationships, but it is not the same as flipping through pages and seeing how photographs, materials and design elements can interact with each other in a physical way.
After a few years of sequencing and cutting down, I can say that the project is complete (although I guess nothing is really ever complete). I am hoping to have the book ready in 2020. When I initially started putting together the book, I created chapters to designate certain themes and places. As time passed though, I realized that the beauty of Borderlands was actually the opposite, and I started to embrace the mixture, form and direct interaction of these "nowhere places". There is an unscripted nature to the way the images are sequenced, and it has been a rewarding challenge to make something physical that embodies the emotions surrounding my project.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
I am really lucky to have my girlfriend and the constant inspiration she provides in my life. She has opened me up to an entire new country, culture and way of life, all of which have had an immense impact on my work and my practice. I think in some ways, Borderlands has grown out of being together.
Soccer is something that will always be special for me as well (before photography, soccer was my entire life). I still try to play as much as I can to clear my head.
Writing is also a big part of my life and practice. I am also a far too intense Dodgers fan.
What’s next for you?
I recently had some work published (Cherry Ave) as part of the Paper Journal Annual 2019 and had a solo exhibition in Porto a few months ago.
Coming up, I have a photograph that will be part of this year's Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London (opening in November).
My main focus right now is my first monograph (Borderlands). I am really excited to be able to share it in book form.