Charlotte Cotton

Charlotte Cotton is a curator and writer based in Los Angeles.  She is currently curator in residence at the International Center of Photography, NY and the Metabolic Studio, LA.  She has held positions including curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, head of programming at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and head of the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Her books include ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’, the standard text book on 21st century photography published in ten languages, and ‘Photography is Magic’, which draws together over eighty artists working in the 2010s who are redefining the idea of the photographic.  Her most recent exhibition, “Public, Private, Secret’ explores contemporary visual culture and its impact on our sense of personal privacy, and opened the new ICP Museum on the Bowery, NY in June 2016.

My first encounters with the Knowle West Media Centre and the incredible forces of nature Carolyn Hassan and Penny Evans happened in early 2012.  Ostensibly, my approach was a professional one – as a curator of public spaces seeking collaborators, and insight into innovative cultural paradigms.  But in hindsight, I can see that the gravitational pull upon me from the mission and actions that are germinated at Knowle West Media Centre affected me in more deep-seated and personal ways.


Curating is my vocation, grounded in the impetus to do things for other human beings, and to “take care” of culture and human encounters.  Rarely have I seen that basic premise so clearly manifest as it is in KWMC’s strategy and day-to-day – drawing on the qualities that make each of its participants unique, and demonstrating the incredible wisdom that is galvanised when we come together to be more than the sum of our parts.  The ethos and workings of KWMC is truly pluralistic, and for each of us who has participated in its story it has been life- changing and affirming.


I am reading this book and appreciating its diversity, held together by a shared commitment to what our image world can speak of.  Like Carolyn, and many of the contributors to ‘20/20 Visions’, my understanding and belief in what we can say and make heard has happened through photography.


This fantastically broad and pervasive medium remains an active terrain and a prospect full of potentiality for awareness, change, and communication.  On so many levels I salute what is written and represented in this book.  I see active choices to reanimate and reclaim the broad field of photography, set within the twenty-year context of Knowle West Media Centre’s evolution.  This project is a microcosm of the macro-reality of photography right now, where everything is at play.  The medium’s history is rethought, its present day is addressed in full cognisance of the post-Internet spirit of our image world at large, and its future – as Melissa Mean implies in her introduction – is claimed.


Each of its contributors openly acknowledges the challenges of pushing a medium into its future, and contextualises the independent practice of photography today within a visual landscape that is crowded by our everyday – every millisecond and gigabyte – production and consumption of images.  Each practitioner represented here acts with intentionality in their directing and holding of our attention – perhaps the most important responsibility of an independent photographer today – and asks us to look and think more deeply about what is observed and articulated about us humans through photography.


I love the fact that no two contributors perceive of photography in the same way but that everyone shares a fundamental belief in photography’s capacity to speak of lives as they are lived, memories as they are recalled, and the enduringly bright energy of human endeavor and imagination.


Like others here, I think a great deal about the what it means to communicate visually in an epoch where long shadows are cast by state surveillance and corporate data-mining – an oppressive climate within which our bodies, picture-making, and ways of life are the meta-data grist to the mill of societal prejudice and “othering”.


What I appreciate more than anything as I read and think through ‘20/20 Visions’ is the commitment to not leaving it up to these unseen and non-human forces to define our image world. Knowle West Media Centre is a much-needed intellectual and physical space, open to the real complexities and diversities of being seen and heard.


This book is testimony to how creative people shape their counterarguments to prevailing biases within society, and by offering up these vital photographic strategies of and about one community, they collectively activate photography’s unfolding future in deeply human ways.