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Meet Donna Cosentino of The Photographer’s Eye Collective and Gallery in North County Inland_Escondido

Today we’d like to introduce you to Donna Cosentino.

So, before we jump into specific questions about what you do, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
There are two things that have been consistent from my earliest years: being a conscious and inquisitive observer; and having a deep desire to learn. My formative years revealed a love of art and the hope to become a teacher.
I discovered photography at community college and I began observing with a camera in the early ’70s. This was a time when street photography and man-altered landscapes made the leap to museums. Budding photographers such as myself, influenced by Winogrand and Arbus, found a way to have a discourse with the city and its people. We were searching for meaning and connection and often found our way of making decent images. I lucked into a job as a photographer at a mid-sized daily in North San Diego County and grew to be really good at what I did, thanks to my fine mentors. Photojournalists are obsessive truth-tellers. It is a demanding and all-encompassing career and one I am still proud of.

In the late ’80s, having a child and moving to Palomar Mountain constituted a lifestyle change and with it came a change in my vision. Portraits on film became my oeuvre. I began using medium format and fell in love with ‘the square’. I even made a few landscape images.

Through a quirk of fate, I was asked to teach a photography class at Palomar College. I had taught many classes informally but this was new. I said yes… though I was shaking in my boots. Again thanks to great mentors I weathered the first few years and eventually became good at teaching. I became full time and eventually the head of the department. I retired in May of 2018, after thirty years of a satisfying and rich career that introduced me to hundreds of wonderful people… students as well as colleagues… and unlimited ways of thinking and making photographic art.

During those teaching years, I complimented my life with other jobs. I became the Coordinator for the International Photography Competition at the Del Mar Fair, I ran a gallery, I was a docent and a volunteer on Education Committees for the Museum of Photographic Arts for the Mary Ellen Mark and Sebastiao Salgado exhibits. I ran my own location photography workshops, I lectured throughout the county and juried numerous shows.

The one dream that haunted me throughout my career was to have my own gallery so that I could promote the excellent photographers I am surrounded by. I was never quite sure HOW to make it happen but in 2018 as I was considering my retirement I discovered a building and a wonderful owner who was enamored of the idea of a photography gallery in her lovely Escondido space. I kind of made it up as I went along, but I knew it was going to take a ‘village’. I enlisted several talented photographers, many former students, who came to believe in the possibility of my crazy idea. Through a lot of physical work and a lot of discussions, we came together and we did it! In July of 2018, we opened our first exhibition. Now having had twelve successful exhibitions, I have shows booked through the end of 2020. We are beginning to be recognized as a bona fide art venue strictly for the showing of high caliber photography with a full house for every opening.

We have installed a darkroom for rental use and I still teach! We have location workshops, classes in darkroom printing, and on how to create a portfolio. The dream I had for our photography community has been realized. Not so much a miracle as a coming together of the right people and gifted photographers who also believe in this dream.

Throughout this journey, I have photographed. I continue to make darkroom prints as well as Platinum/Palladium.

My passion… my true love of the expressive Black and White image… drives me to create photographs that I hope will resonate with the viewer. But if they don’t that’s ok, because I make them for myself. And I hope every artist, every photographer will get this last bit… that you make your work for yourself. Please… go play… for you.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Here’s how I feel about challenges/obstacles. They are there to make you stronger. To teach you. To redirect you or confirm your path. If you let obstacles block you, then you are giving in to fear. In my life, I have had many hard challenges along the way, both personal and professional. I have also discovered that everyone… EVERYONE… has screwed up or been screwed. We are all perhaps a little cuckoo, we’ve had tough childhoods or are depressed or drink or drug or spend or eat too much. We all have our dark past or our dark thoughts. We worry a lot about money or the lack of it. We’ve all hurt someone’s feelings or forgot to say I love you or miss someone unbearably. To dwell on this will only serve to hold you back. If you want something, you have to go for it. Life is yours to live, to create a new you perhaps. Put this dark shit to use in your art… or at least let it motivate you.

I found that whenever I have faced hard times or a scary future (like starting a business for instance) journaling helps me think it through. I whine on the page a lot but somehow it clears my head. It can be a powerful tool for direction.

The Photographer’s Eye Collective and Gallery – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a gallery with the objective of supporting photography-based work of regional photographers and beyond. Our mission is to promote the art and craft of fine photography in all genres and to create a conversation in the community around the content and intent of work by photographic artists.

One of the things I believe that sets us apart is our mission of education. We hope to cultivate an appreciation of photography, particularly for the newcomer, through discussions with artists and gallery personnel of our varied exhibitions. We offer informative walkthroughs for schools by appointment for each exhibition. We also offer classes in photography as well as on-location workshops.

I am especially proud of our library of photography books which is available to students and enthusiasts as a resource for education and enjoyment.

As a lover of the black and white film process, I have incorporated a darkroom into our building. It is for the use of our collective as well as a rental darkroom for the wider community of film enthusiasts.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Here is what I am proudest of and it is not a moment but it is on-going: This entire business has been constructed with volunteer power. Our Collective of twelve photographers and our friends and lovers built this place and keep it going. Every phase of our business is conducted through and by these gifted true believers. Those folks who have donated their knowledge and time, equipment and sweat-equity have made this wonderful enterprise what it is. We are all proud of what we have accomplished.

The support we are receiving from the wider community at our events has been exhilarating. To see our gallery space crowded with people actively listening to photographers Don Bartletti or Philipp Scholz Rittermann, Morgan DeLuna or Adriene Hughes, and the many others we have hosted, to see faces engaged and nodding in understanding… this was my dream, and I am fulfilled.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 326 East Grand Ave Escondido, CA 92025
  • Website: https://www.thephotographerseyecollective.com/
  • Phone: 760-484-3951
  • Email: donna@thephotographerseyecollective.com
  • Instagram: @thephotographerseyecollective
  • Facebook: @thephotographerseyecollective

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