Published: 17 February 2017
Last night was a very special evening at the National Portrait Gallery, as London's most visited art institution hosted an artist's talk with photographer Kovi Konowiecki (T2 Exhibitor, Thompson's Gallery 2016). The young breakout artist was able to share in-depth about his prizewinning portraits and the stories behind the sitters who have graced the walls of the latest Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.
On the way into the gallery, those in attendance were encouraged to browse the exhibition as they made their way to the talks room.
The interlocutor of the evening was NPG Associate Curator Sabina Jaskot-Gill, who curated the 2016 Taylor Wessing show. Alongside Kovi was Christiane Monarchi, founding editor of online magazine Photomonitor and curator of London Art Fair 2018.
Throughout the interview, Kovi shared the story behind his own prizewinning photographs from the show, a selection of portraits from a series completed during his MA studies at UAL's London College of Fashion. Kovi spent time in three different locations with members of the same Orthodox Jewish familiy. He first created a bond with a group of family members in his hometown of Long Beach, California. From there he traveled to Eastern Europe and Israel to capture portraits of even more relatives.
The striking patterned wallpaper behind each sitter corresponds to their location. Kovi selected two particular floral backdrops for his next two locations after first encountering the distinctive wallpaper in the Long Beach home of his initial group of sitters.
The body of work was titled Bei Mir Bitsu Shein, which in Yiddish means To me you are beautiful. Kovi was photographing his final subject, a friend of the Rabbi in a small Israeli village, who, despite having met only minutes before instructed Kovi to sit down so he could be photographed for a change. After placing his Shtreimel (traditional fur hat) on Kovi's head, the new friend clicked the shutter and said to him, Bei mir bitsu shein. Kovi reflected on this anecdote with a smile, saying that such powerful moments are why he loves photography with such passion.
To close the session, Jaskot-Gill and Monarchi joined Kovi in rolling out sneak previews of his latest project, 'Delivering flowers to Grandpa Jack'. The artist has returned to his hometown of Long Beach for yet another dose of inspiration. This body of work will tell the tale of Kovi's upbringing in California, and illustrate the romantic lens through which youths experience and remember their childhood surroundings.