Hana Knizova

Born in the Czech Republic, Hana Knizova moved to London in 2010 to undertake an MA in photography at the London College of Communication. Her editorial work has been seen in publications including Dazed and Confused, Telegraph and Marie Claire. She has exhibited her work at The National Portrait Gallery, The Red Gallery, Arcane gallery in London and internationally. In 2012 she was included in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, and was awarded the John Kobal New Work Award in 2013. 

Hana’s major interest is in personal portrait-based projects, next to her editorial work. Her previous series, including ‘Young Hollywood’, ‘Couple Exchange’ touch on constructions and meanings of identity, personal hopes and dreams, and psychological themes. The viewer is invited to explore what is going on beyond surface level for the subject. Here, we catch up with Hana to explore three of her latest projects: ‘Family Matters’, ‘Hamr Na Jezere’ and ‘Ellyana’.

This series is called ‘Family Matters’ – what inspired you to shoot this? Is there a message you wanted to communicate?

I was always interested in relationships dynamics – it started with my interests in couples, observing their private versus their public presence, and it extended into explorations of close family relationships and also physical resemblance. A lot of people start with the observation of their own family – and it surely is the best and often most accessible subject matter. But since I am an only child this wasn’t an option, and I had to go on the lookout for other families to find out more.

How did you find your models?

I find my models differently – some I stop on the street, find them online, or I am introduced to them via a mutual friend.

Is there one image that particularly stands out for you?

It’s difficult to point an image out as the author. I have the same difficulties with editing process – because you have a close relationship with the images, you often see an image through the distorted eye of the situation it was created in and therefore you tend to value it more or less .. although for a viewer, the image itself doesn’t really reflect or carry these connotations at all. You basically cannot step out of your own perspective and see it with fresh eye. That’s why someone else should help you with editing. Saying that, I hardly let anyone into it anyway!

Tell us about this series (‘Hamr Na Jezere’ – pictured below) – what was your creative idea behind this, and what were you hoping to convey?

The project is rooted in my long-term interest in youth and ambitions. I have worked with youth from totally different, privileged and quite opposite background to that of the kids involved in this series.

What is ‘Hamr Na Jezere’?

Hamr na Jezere is in a youth detention centre in northern Czech Republic in 2013, we used to drive by when I was little and I remember always wondering what the life must be like if you’re one of the kids. I contacted the director of the institution and he was happy for me to come and photograph there. I go there a few times a year, and I bring the the kinds printed photographs from the previous sessions. I am quite open to work with their ideas of how they want to be portrayed as well.

Tell us about the kids in the photos…

The kids, aged from early teens up to 16, have been institutionalized for various behavioural problems, ranging from aggression at school to petty crimes. Their length of stay varies from a couple of months to several years, and some of the children have spent half of their lives there. They mostly come from broken homes and some do not have any family.

The facility comprises schooling and sleeping quarters, separated by gender, designed to serve as a ‘family community’ – the children live together and support each other, visited by guardians and counsellors in shifts.

The images are accompanied by questionnaires completed by the children themselves, capturing both their aspirations, and their explanations as to their presence in the centre. It is perhaps the most interesting part of the project, as their self-perceptions, and the reasoning behind them, are often quite withdrawn from their reality. They all have their personal stories which are impressive in their own way.

Tell us about the idea behind this series (pictured below) – Ellyana. Who is she, and is there something about her that you found really inspiring or fascinating?

I am interested in albinism and I found Ellyana (actually her mother) on social media and got in touch… They invited me over to their house just outside of LA and we spent a day together. She was amazing to work with, bossing me around at times, taking my camera and taking photos of me!