Kovi Konowiecki


The Hawks Come Up Before the Sun

The desert valley where the fog splits the ridge:
above the hidden hawks fly,
and the people, Below.
It reminds man that unconditional access
to the world is not granted; the pearl end of the skies unreachable.
But sometimes the sun jars through and gives glory to the hawks.
Fathers point fingers at the dazzling sky-dwellers
as if they were as rare as stars.
Trailers and truckloads of fathers and sons come to cherish
the life of birds—see them float on the whims of the wind,
play through the tips of trees and chisel the San Jacintos.
These are simple, beautiful things
that can stop the earth-delving jaunt of man.
Glory to the hawks and their awing ways,
and high.


The following photographs were taken between 2016 and 2018 in the western side of the California desert. The right to capture the subjects in many of these photographs was given in exchange for a pack of cigarettes or a liter of soda from the local Country Mart liquor store. During those years, I was introduced to things that were altogether unfamiliar to me: bible study, fruit orchards, arsonists, stories of abandoned twin brothers. I became close to those who have come to be known in those parts as the “black eyes”. I constantly asked myself what drew me back to that place. Perhaps it was the geography—the feeling of vast openness after all my city years. Or maybe it was the people that seem to care about nothing except for what is directly in front of them—the ability to fit every serious thing into so much less. Or maybe it was the conversation between the people and the land—how they spoke to each other about freedom and hope. It is a language that I waited too late in life to learn.


What has creating The Hawks Come up Before Sun taught you about yourself?

This project in particular has taught me to slow down and to appreciate the open landscape. I grew up in both very suburban and metropolitan environments, and this project was a calling of sorts. Many of the individuals portrayed in my project do not have much agenda other than finding a way to get through the everyday and finding peace with their surroundings. This mindset is something I have definitely taken with me.


Can you tell us how you approached Angela and her Daughters for their portrait? 

After a long day of driving through the desert, I was passing through Yucca Valley as the sun was just finishing setting. I saw Angela and her daughters walking out of a house on the side of the highway, and there was something about their body language that caught my eye. I quickly pulled over and approached them, explaining my project to Angela and asking her if I could make a portrait of them quickly before the light disappeared. I didn’t have much time to arrange the composition. I asked them to stand in front of the fence and it just sort of came together naturally. Angela asked me if they should do anything in particular and I told them to just be themselves. Angela was very protective of her daughters throughout the interaction and like many of my subjects, I give her a lot of credit for trusting me with her story. 


Can you introduce us to the term “black eyes” 

I have met numerous people working on this project that have black eyes, quite literally. One of them, named Grant, actually lost his eye in a bar fight, and he said he was not the only one. After about a year I learned that they called themselves the “black eyes”. 


How did your project develop over time? How did you come up with the title for your series?

I’ve always had this romantic notion of doing a photo series from numerous road trips across the country. A couple of years ago, about a week before I was planning to drive to Santa Fe, I decided to explore different areas of the California desert. I found a whole world of vast openness just a few hours outside my hometown of Long Beach. Going back became an addiction. I ended up saving Santa Fe for another time as this new interpretation of home kept calling me back. After about a year I realized I had a project forming. 

With regards to the title, I wrote a poem to accompany the photographs called “Glory to the Hawks”. I feel that the alteration of light in the series is very profound and wanted a title to reflect that. “The Hawks Come Up Before the Sun” was my poetic way of reflecting that. 


Is there a story that any of your subjects shared that made an impact on you?

I feel that all of my subjects have left an impact on me in one way or another. My friend Gary is someone that has been very special. He has shared many different stories about his family, perhaps the most touching being that he hasn’t seen his twin brother since he was a child. He grew up on an Indian Reservation and told me that his house was burned down. His family made it out safely but his brother disappeared and he has never seen him since. 


Fences seem to be a common backdrop for the portraits in your series The Hawks come up Before Sun, is there a reason behind that?

I have always been drawn to fences, I’m not too sure why. Perhaps this notion of liminality, being neither here nor there. Many of the subjects in my series exist in this space between belonging and not existing within societies regularities or rules. Perhaps the repetition of fences reflects this idea. 


How did you go about finding your subjects for this series? 

I like to keep myself pretty open with regards to who I photograph. I am of course working within a particular framework but you never know who you may meet on any given day. One day I find myself driving for three hours straight while another day I get invited into a stranger’s home to watch a trumpet recital. It’s all part of the journey of making a project.


What are you working on next?

I have been sequencing and arranging quite a bit as of late. There are numerous projects I have been working on simultaneously, including a project with Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and a more abstract project called “Borderlands”. I am excited to start playing around with these works in book form.


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Rhombie Sandoval