Featured Artist: Julie Cousens, Always Follow The Light


The life of a creative is a whole lot of fun, even if it doesn’t pay a single bill. There are exciting gallery exhibits rich with networks of aspiring creatives, enthusiastic directors, engaged educators; and passionate spectators everywhere! We chat endlessly about what is trending; the histories behind the images, the theories and philosophies, and plan many, many trips to various museums, concerts, qi gong classes, and shows. The joy I feel when I see people’s visions materialize into something tangible never ceases to invade my soul, I’m always left in awe of the works which are presented.

Julie Cousens, Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Blue Door Art Center has become an inspiration. I’ve learned she’s a photographer originally from Queens who started out using 35mm cameras and developing her own b&w film. Inspired by photographers like Joel Grimes, her favorite aspect of the craft is lighting, which she will always follow, much like the hunt for that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. These days her children are grown, raising their own, and she is excited to use her freedom to focus on Blue Door as well as her own art. She describes it as her way of living in the moment, not dwelling on what she, or anybody, thinks she should or could be doing instead.

Being both a gallery director and photographer are her passions; a calling that is very evident as she answered questions like, “How do you overcome pressures and insecurities in your director role? As a photographer?” and “What are your greatest achievements and how do you continue to challenge yourself as an artist?” with examples and stories.

Julie coolly smiles as she thinks about her responses. She starts the conversation with sharing how she loves to visit the Hudson River for reflection and relaxation. The area is calm and meditative, allows her a chance to live in the moment and brainstorm future project ideas for the art center as its collaborations with many other organizations in the area evolve. The Blue Door is growing as it successfully hosts Open Mic nights every last Friday and participates in monthly gallery hops alongside Urban Studios, Philips Manor Hall Gallery and Riverfront Library. The committed staff of the Blue Door strives to make a name for themselves as they search for resourceful ways to reach out to their community and find specific, affordable ways to work with libraries and schools.

“Whatever camera you have is the one you’re supposed to have. Photography is not about the camera, but about using the tools acquired.” Julie describes herself as someone who always seeks out new lighting projects for her own photography as she experiments with the camera on her mobile phone. With the advent digital photography, it has become easy to enter a creative world. With YouTube as part of that e-revolution, learning how to be a creative photographer (or –anything-) has become much more accessible.

“[YouTube] has made it easier to learn how to cultivate creative skills like photography, easier to share art and vision, when [we]started out using film. It forced us to learn how to be more technical.” Cousens describes her newfound fascination for learning how to use her cell phone for photography with delight. While she very much enjoys being challenged by technology these days, she reminisces about the past, making a point on how much more time was required in the practice before anyone would identify oneself as a skilled photographer. On the other hand, social media has made it easier for newbies to develop thick skins and not be so shy in terms of exhibition and performance.

We both share our thoughts of the digital revolution and cell-phone-inspired-filters that make our Instagrams pop (and many of us yearning for that greener grass on all those other sides): there’s still a huge difference between a snapshot and a photograph. Julie described the snapshot as capturing a moment, but photography as the craft of preserving it. As a huge fan of Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz, Julie admires how special a skill it takes for the professional to take a group of strangers and make their style look so natural. Julie describes Leibovitz as a stylist who knows how to convey an emotion, to truly pull something special from a subject with true knowledge of design, and leave viewers speechless.

After meeting Julie several times, I’m moved by how humble she is; she’s the first person to highlight her resident poet Golda Solomon and share information on exciting, new events, but has never shown her own works publicly. With shock, I ask her why not? She laughs, says she’s shy and feels triumphant in curating shows and highlighting others’ talents. Julie says her life’s work now includes giving a platform for all artists to achieve success in any medium: open mic, performance, weaving, sculpting, photography, and painting, whatever the individual chooses.

As we wrap things up, she gifts me with a personalized calendar of her photography. I’m honored to receive such a beautiful gift, it currently hangs in my hallway and I’m reminded to keep working toward my own success every time I pass by and look up toward the light. Julie’s passion for the arts is most definitely contagious, I walked out feeling as if I had graduated onto something, and is much needed for aspiring artists and restless people in search of creative outlets.

“Always knock”, she reminds me. “The art world should not be intimidating. I have an open door policy. Just knock, there’s always someone here.”

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