Cozette Russell—lens based artist + writer

All I Dreamed Is Light 

“I think that's what beauty is actually––profound impact. It's not just a vague notion, but it's really what love is. It's this moment of illumination, a moment of clarity when something allows you to see yourself far more deeply than you would in any other way or through any other means."

Public Forum: Pictures and Progress, Carrie Mae Weems, 2014

First Swim

Jasper and I are in the cement bathhouse of our town's outdoor pool. It's cool and damp, and we're the only ones inside. We're in the stall at the end, the larger one, and I have Jasper stand with hands steady on the wall while I change him into his swim diaper and bathing suit. It’s hot and difficult to pull the diaper over his skin. Jasper is seven years old. While I use the toilet, I tell him to keep standing against the wall, unsure if he understands, afraid he might drop to his knees and crawl on the bathroom floor. I flush, a loud industrial flush that makes me cringe, but Jasper doesn't seem to notice. I adjust my new bathing suit, which suddenly doesn't feel like it fits right. I want to pull it wider across my butt and thighs. I feel exposed. Winter is too long and cruel. I'm not used to the ease of summer yet.

Outside in the bright sun, I push Jasper in his wheelchair to two chaise lounge chairs. His eyes are fixed on the sparkling water, and I can feel his excitement building as his hands begin to wave. I unpack our bags and keep him in the wheelchair while I quickly cover his shoulders and ears with sunblock. I put a small dollop on my index finger and run it along the surgery scars on his scalp where the hair doesn’t grow. And then I’m helping him into the water, hand in hand, and it's cool, but only for a moment, until the water welcomes us––gorgeously folding in and around our bodies.

With swim floats on his arms, Jasper is excited to move his body in a fish-like position, and I hover next to him, amazed that it's been nine months since he last swam, and he knows exactly what to do. He doesn't hold back. We float and splash and swim and sing songs back and forth. We are close, face to face. There are only a few other kids in the water and a Dad resting on a lounge chair who keeps yelling at his son, also named Jasper. I both yearn for my Jasper to have the independence of the other children splashing and playing while privately feeling special for the intimacy he and I have. Dependency is a type of intimacy I am reminded of. Andrew Solomon wrote about this in an article for the New York Times called "The Dignity of Disabled Lives." "Disabled people are often dependent on other people, and in our lionization of self-sufficiency, we see that as a weakness. But dependency has its own particular poetry. It is a fundamental aspect of intimacy, a defining quality of love."

Jasper holds his face under the water until I make him pull it up. He is delighted with this new game. The other parents resting on towels and chairs seem relieved to be looking at their phones. Sometimes I want that quiet too. But today, on the first swim of the summer, I'm thankful for the way Jasper and I are sharing this. We have our secret language and make each other smile. The sun is high overhead and then moves across the sky to a golden light filtered through the leafy trees. Somewhere nearby a small engine plane is flying. 

Light Into Touch,
Movement Into Light


Would she be happier with another kind of life? The question obsesses her.

From The Years, Annie Ernaux, 2008 

Double Vision

One November afternoon just before Thanksgiving, she found herself in a Harvard Square café having coffee with an ex-boyfriend. She was twenty-three weeks pregnant at the time and would have customarily dodged the text he’d sent wanting to meet up, but it caught her in a moment of nostalgia, which made her curious.

They met on the second floor of a quiet café and caught up like old friends. He was visiting from the west coast. She’d forgotten what a good storyteller he was. And then there was the moment, the beginning of a fracture in her, which she’d only recently begun to make sense of. He had joked about how she used to scam the public city bus, and she looked at him blankly. She had no idea what he was talking about. He persisted. That thing you did, you don’t remember? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think you have me confused with someone else? Remember when you didn’t have enough money and would tear a dollar bill in half. You’d fold over the half and make it look like a whole folded bill, then cram it into the fare jar when you boarded?

A prickly feeling began to rise, and the faintest memory was retrieved from somewhere dark and quiet. Had this been her? Yes. Did she use to do things like that? Yes. She remembered it now. Where had that memory gone? A tiny detail from her life, her mid-twenties, thinking she was living on the edge. A detail that felt so detached from the woman she’d become fifteen years later that she felt disoriented having remembered it. This woman in the present was married, owned a house, poured through lifestyle blogs, and spent the last few years filling her life with things. And when her pregnancy didn’t come easily, there was heartbreak to fill too. She’d lost track of her goals and the life she desired. The woman she’d been fifteen years before did things because they were intense and beautiful, or perhaps for the pleasure of seeing what would happen next. Pushing at the edges until they frayed, creating rather than consuming. But as she had moved into this material life, and now with her child growing in her belly, she was stunned that a memory could be so forgotten, so lost, then suddenly, in an encounter, retrieved. 

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Cozette Russell is a process-driven, lens-based artist who makes work centered around the psychological landscape of family, disability, feminism, and motherhood. She explores these themes through text, sculpture, and movement in her photography practice. She’s interested in how the solitary studio experience merges with the pulsing energy of the outside world and she explores duality across many axes: light and dark, vision and blindness, future and past. She’s especially drawn to where these tides meet—when incoming meets outgoing. Is it a moment of surrender or resistance?