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Meet Jianna Cousin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jianna Cousin.

Jianna, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My journey to where I am now has been filled with many ups and downs. However, I consider myself extremely blessed. The combination of both an omnipotent God, and a strong support system, has allowed me to thrive. I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. I spent much of my childhood involved in the arts. I have been in digital photography for roughly four years and played the viola for nearly ten. My community was my village, and to this day much of the work I do is to uplift and represent them. I spent years in school jumping from medium to medium. Painting, graphic design, sculpture- you name it. In my junior year of high school, photography gained my full attention. I saved up and purchased my own starter DSLR to practice. Once I purchased my own camera, my passion began to evolve past the limits of my high school classroom. For practice, I began to shoot my friends for free, and slowly began to build a small clientele. Since then, I’ve continued to commission photoshoots for individual clients and expand my portfolio. I have worked with many business professionals, campus chartered organizations and families. I specialize in headshot and portrait photography.

After graduating from high school, I made the decision to attend my dream school: Clark Atlanta University. To learn and grow surrounded by people who looked like me, is something I felt I needed. Unapologetically, Clark Atlanta has become my place to continue to find myself. I am a rising junior majoring in Mass Media Arts with a journalism concentration. Art is an essential part of my life. My photography has become a stress reliever and outlet for me to express myself. I shoot portraits, focusing on human emotion and expression. Portrait photography allows you to shoot a diverse range of subjects and highlight a multitude of issues. As a nineteen-year-old, I own and operate my own licensed freelance photography business. This accomplishment has opened my eyes to the opportunities that stem from entrepreneurship.

Has it been a smooth road?
Unfortunately, I feel as if there is no smooth road when pursuing a field like this. I’ve had an abundance of blessings but also my fair share of challenges and doubts. Going to college seventeen hours from home is extremely difficult. There will be financial, emotional, and social obstacles surrounding you at all times; people will try to discourage you. Had I allowed the words of others to intimidate me on the high school level, I would not be at Clark Atlanta today. Growing up, one of my main struggles in everything I did was seeing it as a career possibility for a black girl like me. Representation is one of the most necessary parts of gaining confidence. A time that replays constantly in my mind is a day during my senior year of high school.

In the last week of our senior year, our high school administration had underclassmen write letters to seniors that inspired them during their high school tenure. One letter stands out to this day. The girl, whom I had never met or spoken to, acknowledged my accomplishments in the community and told me that I made her “feel seen” as a young woman of color. Since that day, everything I do has been consciously and subconsciously done to pave the road for women that follow behind me. What I love so much about Atlanta is the network of Black artists is so broad and talented that I can now see other photographers as my colleagues-not my competition. I’m secure in my abilities to a point where I seek to learn, collaborate, and help others do the same.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
As far as commissions go, I am most well known for my headshot and graduation photography. I have had headshots published in novels, displayed on websites, and used in various organizational campaigns. Graduation photography is also one of my largest markets, and I love it because it is a documentation of such an exciting time. I’ve never shot a senior who was having a bad day. They are always so excited to begin their new journeys and it shows through the photos.

In addition to my commercial shoots, I have created art pieces and projects. My artwork takes a view of social, political, and cultural issues and flips them into a depiction of celebration. I have a mission of profoundly and beautifully displaying communities that are often left in the shadows. I seek to show all people of marginalized communities that they are beautiful and worthy of being subjects in the art that are not linked to their oppression. Often focusing on members of the Black community, or people of color in general, the work gives voice and representation to those who are systematically silenced.

A couple of my most recent projects are titled “More Than Just A Letter” and “Testimonies of Texture”. “More Than Just A Letter” seeks to highlight a diverse set of LGBTQI+ youth in the Wichita, Kansas area, and give them the platform to speak for their community. I collaborated with Shania Tran and Neiman Thompson, young creatives at Wichita State University, to achieve this project. Ms. Tran was the sole videographer and editor for the interview portion of the project, and Mr. Thompson was the creative director for my photoshoot.

“Testimonies of Texture” was a project consisting of Black youth who all wear a variety of natural hairstyles. The project was created to shed light on the CROWN Act, a recent legislative movement to prevent workplace discrimination over natural hair. I partnered with videographer Shania Tran once again to document this project which consisted of both editorial style photos and interviews. I want each of my clients to leave a shoot feeling like they could be themselves in any capacity. You don’t have to fit a certain aesthetic or look to be featured in my work.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the creative spaces of Atlanta and the diversity within them. There is an abundance of opportunities for people in media, and there are a lot of Black-owned studios. I’ve been able to find studio space on a college student budget, and I’m never bored. One thing that has been an adjustment for me is the distance between things and the traffic! Where I’m from, ten miles away means a fifteen-minute drive. That is definitely not the reality of Atlanta.

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