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The Questionnaire : Charlotte Cotton by Carole Schmitz


Photography is simply magic

Alternately curator, conservator, consultant and essayist, Charlotte Cotton is one of the most considered specialists in contemporary photography.

Passionate about images and energetic, she is always eager to learn and share. For her, photography is a magical tool that allows her to explore all kinds of cultures.

After serving as Director of the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Charlotte was also Head of Programming at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, Creative Director at the National Media Museum, Curator of Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Curator-in-Residence at the Katonah Museum of Art, New York, and Curator-in-Residence for the International Center of Photography’s museum and event space, the 250 Bowery, before becoming the Founding Artistic Director of the Tasweer Photo Festival Qatar.

In each of her exhibitions, Charlotte Cotton celebrates a new generation of artists who are making photography a culturally significant medium of expression in the current socio-political climate.

Her book, “The Photograph as Contemporary Art,” the fourth edition of which was published in September 2020, is a key work in the evolution of photography as an undisputed art form in the 21st century.


Instagram : pimcharlottecotton


Your first photographic trigger?
Charlotte Cotton : My love of photography was catalysed by spending time as a teenager in a local darkroom and seeing a creative community at work together.

The man or woman of image who inspires you?
Charlotte Cotton : Barbara Kasten.

The image you would have liked to make?
Charlotte Cotton : I choose a body of work rather than a single image – Cathy Opie’s 700 Nimes Road. I would have very much liked to have been spending time in Elizabeth Taylor’s Bel Air home.

The one that moved you the most?
Charlotte Cotton : Nan Goldin’s David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City, 1981.

And the one that made you angry?
Charlotte Cotton : Nan Goldin’s Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984.

A key image in your personal pantheon?
Charlotte Cotton : I don’t have a personal pantheon.

A photographic memory from your childhood?
Charlotte Cotton : My sister telling my dad something and looking very serious aged about 4-years old.

With no budget limit, what would be the work you would dream of acquiring?
Charlotte Cotton : Helen Chadwick’s Of Mutability, 1986.

According to you, what is the necessary quality to be a good photographer?
Charlotte Cotton : Curiosity.

The secret of the perfect image, if it exists?
Charlotte Cotton : It doesn’t exist.

The person you would like to photograph?
Charlotte Cotton : Ryuichi Sakamoto. In Tokyo, circa 1978.

An indispensable photo book?
Charlotte Cotton : Right now, I’m traveling without any photo books so I will admit that there’s currently no photo book in my possession that is literally indispensable for me. I am traveling with powerful, but slim volumes: Kae Tempest’s Brand New Ancients, Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People, and the new book of poetry called The Thermobaric Playground by my first mentor in photography, Mark Haworth-Booth.

The camera of your childhood?
Charlotte Cotton : Polaroid SX-70

The one you use today?
Charlotte Cotton : Ah, my iPhone, of course. It uses me too, I know.

Your favorite drug?
Charlotte Cotton : Not for me, thank you.

The best way to disconnect for you?
Charlotte Cotton : Sleep. Or is that the best way to connect?

What is your relationship to your own image?
Charlotte Cotton : Distant.

Your greatest quality?
Charlotte Cotton : Pleasure in the small things.

Your latest folly?
Charlotte Cotton : Crystals.

An image to illustrate a new banknote?
Charlotte Cotton : We are still awaiting Harriet Tubman’s image on the 20 USD dollar bill. Until then, no flights of fancy. Read Clarence Lusane’s compelling “Twenty Dollars and Change: Harriet Tubman and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Democracy”.

The job you would not have liked to do?
Charlotte Cotton : Anything in a hospital basement that involves post-surgery cleaning (based on one day of temp work I did while a student, which incentivized me greatly to somehow make a living with an art history degree).

Your greatest professional extravagance?
Charlotte Cotton : My time.

The city, the country or the culture you dream of discovering?
Charlotte Cotton : Kerala.

The place you never get tired of?
Charlotte Cotton : Marrakech.

Your biggest regret?
Charlotte Cotton : My regrets (plural) are typically when I don’t act on my gut instinct.

In terms of social networks, are you more into Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok or Snapchat and why?
Charlotte Cotton : None of the above.

Color or B&W?
Charlotte Cotton : Inseparable combinations of both.

Daylight or artificial light?
Charlotte Cotton : Inseparable combinations of both.

Which city do you think is the most photogenic?
Charlotte Cotton : Los Angeles.  (See Thom Andersen’s 2003 film Los Angeles Plays Itself).

If God existed, would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him?
Charlotte Cotton : I suspect making a photograph wouldn’t be on my agenda in this scenario.

If I could organize your ideal dinner party, who would be at the table?
Charlotte Cotton : Harry Belafonte, Fred Zimmerman, Bill Brandt, Brian Ferry. You said ‘ideal’.

The image that represents for you the current state of the world?
Charlotte Cotton : I’m too challenged by representation and the current state of the world to answer this.

What is missing in today’s world?
Charlotte Cotton : Love and kindness, icebergs and rainforests.

If you had to start all over again?
Charlotte Cotton : I would.

A last word?
Charlotte Cotton : Amplify.

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