She has held positions including Head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Head of Programming at The Photographers' Gallery, London, Creative Director at the National Media Museum, UK, Curator of Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Curator in Residence at the Katonah Museum of Art, NY, Curator in Residence for International Center of Photography’s new museum and events space, 250 Bowery, and Curator in Residence at Metabolic Studio, LA where she participated in a program celebrating the legacy of the Woman's Building, founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Arlene Raven.
She is currently Curator in Residence at the California Museum of Photography, Riverside and is currently working on the second version of her exhibition Public, Private, Secret and the first survey exhibition of LA artist Brandon Lattu.
Cotton has curated a number of exhibitions on contemporary photography, and her publications include The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Imperfect Beauty, Then Things Went Quiet, Guy Bourdin, and Photography is Magic. She is also the founder of wordswithoutpictures.org (2008–9) and EitherAnd.org (2012). Words Without Pictures was published as a print and eBook by Aperture in 2010.
Life and career
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cotton was curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1993 to 2004. She started working as an intern there in 1992. She curated many exhibitions of historical and contemporary photography at the museum including: Imperfect Beauty: the making of contemporary fashion photographs (2000), Out of Japan (2002), Stepping In and Out: contemporary documentary photography (2003) and Guy Bourdin (2003).
The Photograph as Contemporary Art
The book The Photograph as Contemporary Art provides an introduction to contemporary art-photography, identifying its most important features and themes and celebrating its pluralism through an overview of its most important and innovative practitioners. The work of nearly 250 photographers is reproduced, from established artists such as Isa Genzken, Jeff Wall, Sophie Calle, Thomas Demand, Nan Goldin, and Sherrie Levine to emerging talents such Walead Beshty, Jason Evans, Lucas Blalock, Sara VanDerBeek, and Viviane Sassen.
The first edition of The Photograph as Contemporary Art was published in 2004. The third was published in 2014 and has a new introduction and extended final chapter.
The Photograph as Contemporary Art is published in nine languages.
The Photographers' Gallery
Cotton was Head of Programming at The Photographers' Gallery, London from 2004 to 2005.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Cotton was Curator and Head of the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from 2007 to 2009.
"Charlotte's career bridges the traditional and the contemporary. That is her real strength," said LACMA Director Michael Govan. "At the Victoria & Albert, she dealt with a collection of some 300,000 photographs that has great 19th century and early 20th century material, so she had a real grounding in a big museum collection and historic work. Then she gave it up to experiment and learn more about photography in the contemporary world. She has had huge experience, and she has taken risks. That's a good combination."
Photography is Magic
Photography is Magic is a critical book that surveys the work of over eighty artists, all of whom have experimental approaches to photographic ideas, set within the contemporary image environment, framed by Web 2.0. Photography is Magic surveys over eighty artists whose practices are shaping the possibilities of the contemporary photographic landscape. The contributors include Elad Lassry, Sara VanDerBeek and Kate Steciw.
Exhibitions organized and co-organized by Cotton:
- Fashion on Paper & Contemporary Fashion Photography, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, March ~ September 1997
- Information Units: A digital programme exploring the V&A’s Photography Collection. Devised and launched between April and November 1998
- Silver & Syrup: a selected history of photography, Victoria and Albert Museum, London November 1998 ~ September 1999
- Triple Exposure: Three Photographers From the Sixties, Victoria and Albert Museum, London September 1999 ~ February 2000
- Attitude: A History of Posing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London September 2000 ~ March 2001
- Imperfect Beauty: The Making of Contemporary Fashion Photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum, London September 2000 ~ March 2001
- Out of Japan: Felice Beato, Masahisa Fukase, Naoya Hatakeyama, Victoria and Albert Museum, London September 2001 ~ February 2002
- Stepping In and Out: Contemporary Documentary Photography: Roger Ballen, Tina Barney, Donovan Wylie, Clare Richardson, Albrecht Tubke, Victoria and Albert Museum, London September 2002 ~ February 2003.
- Guy Bourdin, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Spring, 2003); National Gallery Victoria (Summer, 2003); Centre Nationale de la Photographie Paris (Spring, 2004); Foam Amsterdam (Fall 2004)
- History in the Making: Mitch Epstein, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Ori Gersht, Zineb Sedira, Zoran Nazkovski. Circulos des Bellas Artes, Madrid PhotoEspana, June ~ July 2004
- Stories from Russia: Melanie Manchot & David King, The Photographers’ Gallery, London January ~ March 2005
- Art + Commerce Festival of Emerging Photographers, The Tobacco Warehouse, Brooklyn, October 2005; MOC Gallery, Tokyo (February–March 2006); Fendi Gallery, Milan (May 2006); Matadero Madrid (June 2006, PHotoEspaña); Center for Photography, Stockholm (September–October 2006, XpoSweden)
- Philip-Lorca diCorcia, LACMA, Los Angeles May ~ September 2008.
- The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, LACMA, Los Angeles, October 2008 ~ February 2009 
- Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913 ~ 2008, LACMA, Los Angeles October 2008 ~ March 2009 
- A Machine Project Field Guide to the LA County Museum of Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, November, 2008.
- EATLACMA, LACMA, Los Angeles February ~ November 2010 
- Brighton Photo Fringe, Phoenix Arts, Brighton November ~ December 2011 
- Krakow Photomonth: Photography in Everyday Life, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow, May ~ June 2012 
- Daegu Photo Biennale: Photography Is Magic!, Daegu Arts and Culture Centre, Daegu, September ~ October 2012 
- Photoespaña 2014: P2P, Teatro Fernan Gomez, Madrid, June ~ July 2014.
- This Place, DOX center, Prague, October 2014 ~ January 2015; Tel Aviv Museum, May ~ September 2015; Norton Museum, Palm Beach, Fall 2015; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, Spring 2016 
- SupraEnvironmental, Katonah Museum of Art, NY, October 25, 2015 ~ January 24, 2016 
- Photography is Magic: Aperture Summer Open, Aperture Foundation, NY, July ~ August 2016 
- Public, Private, Secret, International Center of Photography, NY, June 2016 ~ January 2017 
Books that Cotton has authored and edited:
- Cotton, Charlotte (2000). 'Imperfect Beauty: The Making of Contemporary Fashion Photographs. V&A. ISBN 1851773207.
- Cotton, Charlotte (2003). Guy Bourdin. V&A. ISBN 1851773991.
- Cotton, Charlotte (2003). Then Things Went Quiet. MW Projects. ISBN 0954631102.
- Cotton, Charlotte (2005). Peek: The Art+Commerce Festival of Emerging Photographers. Art+Commerce. ISBN 0977313905. (Editor, essay)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2009). Paul Graham: A Series of Conversations between the photographer Paul Graham and Charlotte Cotton. Fabrica Madrid. ISBN 9788496466760.
- Cotton, Charlotte (2009). The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection. LACMA. (Essay, published for LACMA)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2009). Words Without Pictures. LACMA. ISBN 9780875872032. (Founder of wordswithoutpictures.org, co-editor, essay, published for LACMA)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2009). The Sun as Error: Shannon Ebner in Collaboration with Dexter Sinister. LACMA. ISBN 9780875872001. (Commissioned and published for LACMA)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2009). The Machine Project Field Guide to LACMA. Machine Project Press. ISBN 9780061714573. (Essay, co-published for LACMA)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2010). Four Over One: Phil Chang. LACMA. ISBN 9780875872049. (Commissioned and published for LACMA)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2010). Bananas for Moholy Nagy: Patterson Beckwith. LACMA. (Commissioned and published for LACMA)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2012). Photography is Magic!. Daegu Photo Biennale. (Exhibition catalogue, essay, artists’ biographies)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2014). The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art). Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0500204184. (Third edition with new introduction and extended final chapter)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2014). This Place. Mack. ISBN 978-1910164136. (Exhibition catalogue, editor, essay, interviews)
- Cotton, Charlotte (2015). Photography is Magic. Aperture. ISBN 978-1597113311.
- Cotton, Charlotte (2018). Public, Private, Secret: On Photography and the Configuration of Self. Aperture. ISBN 1597114383
- Cotton, Charlotte (2018). Fashion Image Revolution. Prestel. ISBN 9783791383781
Cotton has been a visiting critic and scholar at numerous universities and schools in the US and the UK including: NYU Tisch, New York; CCA, San Francisco; Parsons and SVA, New York; Yale University, New Haven; UPenn, Philadelphia; and UCLA, USC, UC Irvine, Los Angeles; Farnham College, Surrey Institute of Design, UK.
In reference to Public, Private, Secret:
I think what the exhibition centers on is the idea of photography rather than the more literal approach of a photograph being a physical manifestation or illustration of an idea. As a result, it’s quite a cerebral experience—even if you come from a very classical understanding of photography—to have photographs that you may already know be contextualized by their connections with contemporary works and the curation of real-time media streams. I think it makes the meaning of photography aptly malleable.
- Muchnic, Suzanne (2007-05-16). "From London to LACMA". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
- "Charlotte Cotton Joins ICP as First Curator in Residence for 250 Bowery". International Center of Photography. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
- "Defying The Haters: An Interview with Charlotte Cotton". Humble Arts Foundation. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
- "Nine Years, A Million Conceptual Miles – By Charlotte Cotton".
- Muchnic, Suzanne. "From London to LACMA". Los Angeles Times.
- Bare, Bjarn. "Conversation with Charlotte Cotton". Objektiv. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- "Photograph as Contemporary Art". Thames and Hudson. Thames and Hudson. Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- Muchnic, Suzanne. "From London to LACMA". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- "Photography is Magic - Aperture Foundation". aperture.org. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
- "Philip-Lorca diCorcia | LACMA". www.lacma.org. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "A Story of Photography: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection | LACMA". www.lacma.org. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913–2008 | LACMA". www.lacma.org. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "Fallen Fruit Presents EATLACMA | LACMA". www.lacma.org. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "Miesiąc Fotografii w Krakowie 2012 || Photomonth in Krakow 2012". 2013.photomonth.com. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "Main Exhibition | - Daegu Photo Biennale". daeguphoto.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- www.2fresh.cz, 2Fresh –. "THIS PLACE". Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "KMA: Katonah Museum of Art | SupraEnvironmental". www.katonahmuseum.org. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "2016 Aperture Summer Open: Photography Is Magic - Aperture Foundation NY". Aperture Foundation NY. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "Public, Private, Secret". International Center of Photography. 2016-05-16. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
- "Interview: Associate Curator Pauline Vermare and Assistant Curator Marina Chao with Curator-in-Residence Charlotte Cotton". Retrieved 2016-07-01.