Interview with Visiting Photography Faculty Charlotte Cotton

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charlotte-cotton

WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?

I’m in the process of completing my next book, entitled ‘Photography is Magic’.  Aperture will be publishing the book in 2015 and I am working with the LA-based designer Harsh Patel.  The book includes images of works and statements by over eighty artists who I think form the critical mass of artists who are using ideas about the photographic in sentient ways.  These artists are wide ranging in terms of the technologies they use and the physical objects that they render but are connected in my mind by their navigation of the places that artists can occupy within our contemporary image media environment.

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN YOUR WORK?
I am a curator by training and even when I am working on a writing project, I am inspired by who I think the reader/audience is.  My basic definition for being a curator is making things for other people, anticipating their questions and enjoyments, taking care of the experience of culture.

WHAT LED YOU TO CHOOSE PHOTOGRAPHY AS A CAREER?
I like photography’s slipperiness – it’s a malleable, vast terrain of motivations, industries and connections.  I love that about photography.  Curating is a vocation for people who like to be unfixed and open to what comes onto their radar. In combination with the idea of photography, I think I was choosing an intellectually dynamic career, one in which I am constantly learning.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WERE THE DEFINING MOMENTS OF YOUR CAREER?
I imagine that I am like most people thinking in retrospect that the defining moments are those when somebody was generous and gave me a platform for my ideas.  And that these sit alongside the moments when something went wrong or felt wrong and I had to rethink.

WHAT ACTIVITIES DO YOU ENJOY OUTSIDE OF WORK?
Over the past three years, I’ve tried to make a distinction between my ‘labour’ and my ‘work’.  My labour is what I do well, with a proven track record, for an employer and it’s my responsibility to myself to make sure the terms and conditions of that labour are what I need.  My work belongs to me and thinking of work in this way pushes me to really ‘own’ what I do.  When I am not laboring or working, I like to squander time – nothing too self-destructive but acknowledging a very basic need to not be productive all the time.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT TEACHING?
The conversation.  I think my favourite moments are in a seminar class where someone puts out an idea into the room and it gets developed by the whole group – the idea literally circulates.  It’s an experience that is absolutely unique to the people who are sitting in that room at that moment.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OUR STUDENTS ON FOLLOWING THEIR PASSIONS AND PURSUING A CAREER IN PHOTOGRAPHY?
Stay as self-aware and as well-read as you can!  Know what your motivations are and expect them to shift as you move through life.  The Brazilian writer and educator Paulo Friere used a lovely word for the human condition, which is our shared ‘unfinishedness’ – a beautiful and forceful reminder that we may be ‘conditioned’ by our experiences but not ‘determined’ by them.

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