ICP Member Spotlight: Q&A with Tom Cotton

Member since September 2010
Jul 14, 2016
© Tom Cotton
© Tom Cotton

What first brought you to ICP, and why did you decide to become a member?

After 45 years as a serious amateur photographer, I joined the ICP around the time I sold my first work through a gallery in Westport, CT. My wife and I soon moved back to New York after 25 years in the suburbs, and I was accepted into the juried Gracie Square Art Show that fall. While it was exciting being accepted into that show, it forced me to understand how much I didn’t know, and ICP became a class and learning resource for me.

What has been your favorite ICP moment?

I have to cite two to illustrate the breadth of my ICP experiences. The first was my initial visit to the Sabastiao Salgado Genesis exhibition. I had admired him for decades, but actually knew little about him, and the show knocked me out. My wife and I then saw the “Salt Of The Earth” documentary together, and it was an emotional double whammy—a treat to get to know this giant of our art, and to introduce him to my wife.

My other favorite moment was on an ICP Weegee Walk when one of Weegee’s “victims” was lying on a narrow Lower East Side street, and a car crept by with the driver looking down—shocked—at the “body” under a coat, with legs sticking out, looking back and forth up to us, down the body, up to us, down to the body, trying to understand what he was seeing. We kept our stone faces, and when he was safely down the block, we all cracked up, chatting about what this poor guy was thinking. I wonder to this day what he thinks he saw that night.

Do you take photographs? If so, what type of photographs? And what inspires you?

Before moving back to Manhattan, capturing images on and near Long Island Sound in Southport, CT was my most regular inspiration, along with other water-related images from my travels. I’m attracted to rhythms and patterns, natural and manmade, either representational or abstract, and the shore fed me with an endless material.

I was “all analog” until 1999, when I destroyed my 35mm equipment in an accident on the Big Island of Hawaii. I tend to think it was a “meant to be” event. While wading in the shallows off the City Of Refuge—the most sacred shelter for Hawaiian royalty before the monarchy was toppled—I suddenly fell and dunked all my film equipment. I rose out of the water with blood gushing from a gash on my right wrist from razor-sharp lava rock.

Many months later, after getting over the loss of my film equipment, I made the move to digital, and it was a huge blessing—digital took my love of photography to a new level. And whenever I see or feel the scar on my wrist I smile and and think how lucky I was to take that fall.

© Tom Cotton
© Tom Cotton

If you could meet a photographer, who would it be and why?

Since moving back to NYC, my focus has been on iPhone city street photography, which has reignited my love for Henri Cartier-Bresson. His “decisive moment” philosophy of quick vision, composition, and framing, with the same basic camera and lens with minimal image manipulation in post “is very iPhone” and more than ever appropriate for me. I would love to speak with him about his Zelig-like travels and uncanny witness and capture of critical moments in history, as well as how he developed his eye, his confidence, and his big-hearted approach to image capture.

© Tom Cotton
© Tom Cotton

What inspires you to want to become more involved with photography? What do you love about taking photographs? 

The move to digital, and my passion for street photography has enabled me to be active every day instead of on special occasions or planned photographic outings. I love Instagram, and follow 800+ photographers across a wide spectrum of professionals and amateurs. Until I hang up my day job, iGram is my outlet and photographic community for the moment, and ICP is always there for me to help enrich my love and knowledge of photography.

I am @tom.cotton on Instagram, and hope to see you there.