Tag Archives: S David

Success Stories: Julia Kozerski

The photographs of Julia Kozerski first came onto my radar when Fraction Magazine’s David Bram selected her photograph for the Juror’s Award in the Center of Fine Art Photography’s Food Exhibition.  Director Hamidah Glasgow also selected Julia’s work for the Director’s Award, and it was a signal that this was work of interest.  Last October, I had a chance to meet Julia, at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, and see her powerful and poignant work in person. Since that time her work has been featured in exhibitions across the country and she has received significant exposure on-line, including the CNN Photos blog.  And this was all while an undergraduate at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design!  After she picks up her diploma at the end of this week, she heads off to Review Santa Fe in early June to undoubtedly continue an amazing career as a fine art photographer.

I thought I would interview Julia at this pivotal point in her photographic journey and explore what has brought her to where is stands today. I will be featuring a few images from her Half project, and then introducing her new body of work, Tag.
Julia Kozerski’s BFA Thesis Exhibition
Interview with Julia Kozerski

I don’t know where to begin with my congratulations. But I
will start with big kudos for completing your BFA! How does it feel now that
the show is on the walls and all the effort over the last 4 years is a thing
the past? 
Thank you! I have officially completed all of
my coursework and now anxiously await the “grand finale,” walking across the
stage at our graduation ceremony on May 12.

My undergraduate education was turbulent to say
the least. In that time, I got married, 
purchased my first home, cared for the health of my parents, lost over
160 pounds, underwent emergency surgery, and, most recently, witnessed my
mother’s passing. Despite these obstacles, I attended full-time, and will
proudly graduate with honors. None of these occurrences are ideal at any stage
in one’s life but I have begun to appreciate the fact they happened to me
during a time when I was learning to see and understand the world in creative
new ways. Because of this, I think I was more willing to openly investigate the
circumstances (rather than suppress or ignore them) and embrace my experiences,
allowing them to fuel my visual explorations.

My BFA thesis has been on display for the last
month. My exhibition has provided not only a capstone and closure to my hard
work over the last 4 years (technically 5 years since I was forced to withdraw
my junior year off to care for my parents,) but it has also given me a platform
to assert myself an “artist” rather than just as a “student.” It also has
provided a platform to share my intensions going forward after graduation.

Before starting the
project that would change your life in so many ways, what were you creating
with photography?
always had something to say and was never one to make purely aesthetic artwork.
Before beginning “Half,” I was exploring a wide variety of subjects, always
with the intent of inciting social commentary. Through my photography, I’d
worked with themes surrounding identity, body-image, religion, politics, the
economy, and LGBTQ issues. I was also working three dimensionally.

So, let’s get down to
talking about the “body” of work that has put you on the map, and in much
better health, Half. When did you decide to create a photographic project about
this journey?
December 2009, just after my wedding, I started a journey towards better
health. I was in school at the time and thought that I could explore some of
the issues and questions that had arisen from this personal experience for my
class assignments. For a length of time, I used my photography to speak about
our society’s misguided notions of nutrition – mainly addressing ideas
surrounding fast food. I even explored my weight-loss in a more tongue
-and-cheek fashion by addressing certain aspects in my Humor in Contemporary
Photography class.

Eventually I came to realize that what I was
talking about could be better understood, related to, and appreciated by the
viewer if I stopped speaking abstractly and started speaking to my personal experience.
The first images I shared in class critiques were those up-close, detail images
of my skin (titled “Casing No. 1,” “… No. 2,” and “… No. 3.”) I was lucky
to be part of a class of professors and students that understood what I was
enduring outside of the classroom and I was encouraged to continue forward with
my exploration. As I began to become more comfortable sharing nude images of my
body in public, I pulled the camera out – teasing the viewer with silhouettes
of my figure and then, eventually, exposing myself (no holds bared) to the
truth of my experience and it’s affect on my physical and emotional well being.

Developing “Half” was a gradual process,
spanning 2 years, and, in the end, I found that the process functioned very
much as a catharsis. Through my images I was able to capture moments in time
which were fleeting. Photographing allowing me the necessary time to stop and
process what I had gone through and be able to speak about it in more concrete
way. Looking back, I don’t think I chose to create this project – I let my life
dictate my visual explorations.

What did you learn as
a photographer, and as a person from this project?
“Half” was probably as equally as important to my personal life as it was to my
professional/photographic life.

Through its development, I learned the
importance of honesty (not to be confused with that intangible element of
“truth” in photography.) By honesty, I am referring to commitment. I might not
have envisioned the full extent of the project or where it would eventually
take me, but I was dedicated to opening myself up in very vulnerable ways and
ready to sacrifice my privacy for (what I believe to be) a greater cause. Just
as I was wholly committed to improving my health, from the first shots taken, I
knew that I wanted (needed) to talk about this subject and that I wanted to
raise awareness and insight conversation in a more public forum. Becoming
honest with myself despite the fear of ridicule and failure was a huge step. In
this, I learned to relinquish certain aspects of control.

Because it was based around such a very
private, personal experience, I anticipated the need to push my own limits of
comfort as well as that of the viewer. Early on I vowed to go at this all or
nothing – I couldn’t imagine only exploring aspects in which I felt
comfortable. With regard to “Half,” there are still images and conversations
stemming from images which make myself and others cringe. In that way, I find
my endeavor to be successful. This project gave me permission to push my
boundaries, both behind and away from the camera.

Gut (no pun intended) also played a huge roll.
Because my body and my emotional and mental state were constantly in flux, I
had to make concrete decisions about images knowing that if I chose not to
shoot something, I couldn’t replicate it later on. Working “in the moment” was
also part of this. Essentially I lived in front of the camera for two years
because I wanted to photograph in “real” time, I wanted my appearance and display
of emotion to be as genuine as possible. Overall, I am proud of this work and I
have a greater respect and sense of pride and appreciation for my instinct.
Before this undertaking, I will admit to being
a bit lost (both creatively and personally.) Not only was I was uncomfortable
with myself physically but I was also filled with insecurity and self-doubt
having felt overshadowed by the label of “student.” “Half” helped me find
myself and aided me in finally realizing myself as a photographer.

Your work is on equal numbers of health and photography blogs and it’s not often that
student work shows up on CNN online and receives thousands of “likes”. What was
it like for you, having your work and story out in world were everyone has access to it…
One word: “incredible.” I am still in awe by
the attention “Half” has received.
At first, I was mainly in a state of disbelief,
mostly connected to comments about my “bravery.” For me, the process of my
physical transformation was nothing “special.” Like almost everyone, I was
simply working to improve upon things I was unhappy with in my life – I
definitely didn’t pursue my journey as some monumental, attention-seeking act.
Whether I’d photographed my progress or not, I was going to make the necessary
changes I needed to improve my health.

It’s interesting now, to have people come up in
person, excited to meet me. Or to receive emails from teachers saying their
students had written reports or given presentations about me/my work for their
classes. As artists, some (maybe most) of us have far off dreams of some level
of success and/or personal notoriety but quickly come back to reality. Notions
of fame never once drove or motivated this work and the truth is, I’m about as
“normal” of a woman as it gets. A student, a wife, a sister, a daughter – I
just happened to have struggled with self-image and wanted to share my
experience with others who I thought might relate. I surely didn’t expect or
anticipate my nude self-portraits to be hung in galleries and to go viral
 And, once I was finally distanced and detached myself from
the work itself, I still found myself bewildered by popularity of the work. For
so long, I thought I was alone in my struggles. I don’t think I fully understood
the gravity and importance of what I was exploring visually until it went
public and I was flooded with the responses of viewers. I am beyond thrilled
that the masses have connected with my work (both within the realm of the arts
as well as within the general public) and that the images are generally
understood and accepted, rather than censored. My images have been viewed all
over the world and it has been empowering knowing that they can transcend not
only the personal but can also function on a very universal level. The
discussions and dialogues created by “Half” have only fueled my ambitions to
continue to break boundaries with my work and to stimulate open and honest
communication about issues surrounding our humanity.

To say the least, it’s been a wild ride thus
far. . . and I wouldn’t change a thing!
Where was the first
place you shared it, and did it make you nervous to do so?
“Half” began as “loose” images I presented for
class assignments (although it was never part of an assigned project.) The
series was very much in its infancy when I began tacking prints up on the wall
during in-progress critiques. Of course, I was nervous at first, showing nude
self-portraits to my classmates and teachers, but, the great thing was that I
was enrolled at an arts-based college so I sheltered by a very supportive,
“protective” environment. Everyone viewing the work had already been exposed to
nudity through art history classes as well as our drawing classes (where we
would study and sketch from live, nude models.) At that time, I was probably
the only one in the room who was uncomfortable and even that was temporary.

Eventually, through those critiques, I began to
understand that my images weren’t purely about me. It was then that I separated
myself from the work, allowing me to view the use of my body purely as
symbolism. After awhile I became comfortable with sharing my work outside of
the classroom and started doing so by releasing select images to a limited,
professional audience through submissions to calls-for-entry and other
photography competitions. The next step to follow was posting the images on my
website. Now, I’m comfortable and am not shy about sharing the images freely,
however, this entire transition was a very gradual process, spanning the course
of several years.

I can only imagine
how the power of creating this work allows you to tackle anything with
How have you managed
to get your work so far out into the photography world while still being a
student? I guess it’s the idea that when the work is significant, it doesn’t
matter what the resume reads.
been hiding behind the label, “student,” for the last 5 years and I think it
really held me back in certain cases. For a long time, I thought that, because
I was in school, I couldn’t possibly make meaningful or important work. I was
under the impression that I was “just” a student and no one cared about me or
my work because I wasn’t a “real” artist. Realistically, art is art, no matter
if/when you’ve had education or training. Art transcends. Language, age, race,
disability. . . none of them matter. Art is equal opportunity at it’s purist.
If you are interested in sharing your visual creations with the world (and when
you feel ready) there is an audience. If what you are doing/saying is
meaningful and important, you’ll go far.

The art-community is vast and it’s members are
always seeking to support good work and one another. It is important to be
active, you can’t hide away and expect to be “discovered.” I have a heavy online
presence, networking through Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. I maintain my
website, updating my “News” section weekly and sending email newsletters to
alert people interested in my work of important events. (Please note that my
contact list started with only friends and members of my family. . . and that’s
okay.) A key part to getting your work “out there,” whether a student or not,
is staying active. If you see someone’s work that you like, contact them. I
send emails all the time letting people know that I saw their work somewhere
and that I really responded to it. I congratulate other artists on their
accomplishments. I read a lot and subscribe to online magazines and try to stay
abreast of what is happening in the realm of photography as well as the
art-world as a whole. Communication is key. You need to be open with yourself
and with others. Don’t be selfish. Share. Be friendly. Be professional.

I believe a lot of my “success” has been due to
putting myself out there, taking risks, and working hard towards a career as an
artist (and of course being lucky in some cases.) For a long time, I thought
being an artist/photographer was just about creating work. I was wrong. Being
an artist is about operating as a business – more time will be spent behind the
computer screen, on the phone, and filling out paperwork than it will be
creating the work itself (unless, of course, you are super-duper lucky.) Don’t
think that just because you are a student that you can’t be a part of the
photo/art community. The walls of academia don’t mean much… we are all

Was there something
that took your work to the next level?
A little over a year ago, after becoming more
comfortable with my work, I took a chance and submitted to a call-for-entry. Held
through the Center for Fine Art Photography (C4FAP,) the exhibition theme was
“Food” and it was juried by Fraction Magazine founder and editor, David Bram.
It was the first time I’d submitted to anything and I was intimidated. Again, I
saw myself as “just a student” so I figured I’d be written off immediately. I
all but forgot about my entry when I received an email congratulating me on
having my “Untitled” image selected for the show. While excited, I also
secretly wondered if there was a mistake – maybe the email was sent in error,
maybe no one else applied, or maybe, worse yet, my piece was selected out of
pity (At the time, my resume was literally one line long, stating my
educational experience.) Shortly after, I was contacted by the gallery to congratulate
me on receiving an award – not just “an” award, the Director’s and the Juror’s
awards. Both. This was the point in my career (thus far) that took things to
the next level.

“Half” was still in development and I was still
unsure about it’s (and my) future. Still, I decided to take a chance and made
the drive to Colorado for the “Food” exhibition’s opening. Anyone in attendance
at the event can attest to my timidness – I felt like a fish out of water. The
experience changed me. I met so many people that evening, each of them with a
comment or a question. It was the first time I’d publicly spoken about my
feelings and my experience. It was good practice and prepared me for what would
follow. I was encouraged to continue my exploration and was empowered by the
fact that my single image, hung on the wall could elicit such personal
responses from viewers. Strangers I’d never met shared intimate details and
confessions about themselves and it was then that I knew that my work served a
greater purpose.

One image, one submission, one juror, one
experience – changed my life.
Images from Tag
Much of your work is
about revealing the most intimate moments in your life. Do you feel a need to
continue to share yourself at this point, or are you moving away from the lens?
Such a great question, and it’s one that I’ve
been grappling with myself a lot lately.
I can’t say for certain whether or not I will
be in front of the lens going forward. Much of my work is very experiential and
it’s not often that I fully “plan” a series. Rather, I tend to live and let the
images I take from my explorations dictate the projects themselves.

Whether or not images of myself are ever made
public again, I will most likely be taking them. What I will say is that, like
that in which I went through my physical transformation and photographed
“Half,” I am now in a new stage of my life, following graduation. I have a lot
of questions and concerns surrounding myself and my future (both personally and
professionally) and see the potential for continued focus on self-portraiture
as a means of catharsis. Again, whether I share the images or not remains to be

I definitely don’t want to pigeonhole myself or
confine my visual explorations to one theme or subject. I am open and willing
to whatever comes my way and would welcome a departure from being my own muse
if that is what is to be.

What’s next?
What’s next? . . . What isn’t next?
I’m continuing to exhibit images from “Half” nationally (with hopes of expanding my audience internationally) and will be participating in Review Santa Fe later this month. Other than that, I’m planning on making a lot of new work! I’ve recently become interested in time based media (video) and would like to continue to explore that artistic avenue. Never fear, I’ve also got some ideas for some photographic endeavors as well. Oh, and I’m also planning on applying to graduate schools next year. Eventually I would like to teach.

With no concrete plans to speak of, the name of the game is “onward.” Graduation is not a stopping point for me and I’m excited to see where the future takes me/my work. The only explicit plan I have going forward is that I will create. My guess is that I will stumble and fall on most of my artistic attempts, but, like most artists and photographers, I’m holding on to hope that something great will come of it.

So now that you are
stepping into the real world, do you have any ideas for the future?

for me, I was an “older” student (graduating at 27 years old.) I’ve already had
the experience of working in the “real world” and feel more prepared, I think,
than some of my fellow classmates graduating from college.

Ideally, I’d love to think that I could make a
living as an exhibiting artist/photographer but, realistically, given the economy
and other outlying factors (repayment of student loans, etc.,) I don’t think
that that is an option. Besides reentering the working world, I’ve been an
active member of the creative photo community for some time and plan to
continue functioning as so, while continue making personal work.

But. . . I will have to get a “day job.”
(Anyone hiring?)
And finally, what
would be your perfect day?
I’d turn off my phone and completely abandon my
computer. My perfect day would begin by sleeping in as long as possible and,
instead of being awoken by the violent buzzing of my alarm clock, I would be
gently coaxed from my bed by the warm rays of sunshine streaming through my
bedroom curtains. After breakfast, I would venture out into the summer heat,
riding my bicycle (nicknamed Marilyn) on the trails along the edge of the
lakeshore (or better yet, if I could move out West, I’d ride in the desert
landscape.) With the beat of my favorite songs pulsing through my headphones,
I’d return home for a light snack before heading back outdoors for some good
old fashioned landscaping. I’d probably start out with mowing the lawn and
finish up tending to my plants. Afterwards, I’d take a leisurely walk where’d
I’d contemplate ideas and gain inspiration for photographs. Returning home, I’d
spend hours shooting, eventually greeted greeted with a hug and a kiss from my
husband. We’d share a plate of delicious Middle Eastern food before hoping in
the car for a ride into the country (or desert) to watch a thunderstorm roll in.
Afterwards, we’d retire to our home together and climb into bed for the evening
– one last “I love you” before nodding off.

I think I’ll take a bike ride

Photo Radio Blog by Lauren Henkin

I try to keep posts about my own photo career to a minimum on Lenscratch, but wanted to acknowledge the terrific Photo Radio blog by Lauren Henkin, and a series of recent interviews she conducted at Photolucida, one of which, was with me! Other interviews conducted at Photolucida are with Melanie McWhorter from photo-eye, photographer Cat Gwynn, and Fraction Magazine’s David Bram. There are more to come, and be sure to book mark this site for future good listening!