The Liminal Space between History and Modernity


An interview with Kovi Konowiecki

Kovi Konowiecki won our recent theme ‘Humans of the World’ with his beautifully considered portrait of ‘Shmuley’ – a young Orthodox Jewish boy. It struck us with its warmth, and its poise, and Shmuley’s expression – delicately capturing the transition between boyhood and manhood.

Kovi’s series has been receiving widespread attention – another of the images is shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Potrait Prize – and it’s not hard to see why. He shines an intimate light on a lesser-seen section of society – exploring their history and identity in a mature and reflective way.

We sat down with Kovi to ask him about his work – where the ideas came from, and how it has been taking him around the world on a cultural, and personal, exploration.


Hi Kovi – Firstly, congratulations on winning our seventh theme ‘Humans of the World’ with your stunning image ‘Shmuley’. Can you tell us a little more about the image and the series it comes from ‘Bei Mir Bistu Shein’?

Shmuley was actually the first image I took as part of this series. He had just had his Bar Mitzvah at the time the portrait was taken, such an important period in the life of an Orthodox Jewish boy. In a sense, this image exemplifies his transition from boyhood to manhood.

Bei Mir Bistu Shein portrays Orthodox Jews represented in three different parts of the world: United States, England and Israel. With the series, I wanted to provide an intimate lens into a group of people that otherwise may not be accessible. The subjects of these portraits exist in a liminal space between history and modernity. This dichotomy–the old and the new, modernity and tradition–captures the essence of the subjects–people who define their lives by an idea that embodies the physical and the mystical world perhaps more than any other: Faith.