Cotton Coulson passed away on May 27, 2015, three days after a diving accident off the coast of Norway left him in a coma.
I last saw Cotton at a train station in Avignon at the end of April. The conversation was one of those of no major importance, I think it was about which of the shops in the station had the best sandwiches to take with us on the TGV trip back up to Paris. If I remember correctly, Cotton and his wife Sisse were leaving on 12:15 train, while my wife Rocio and I were heading out on the 12:45 (we didn’t but that’s another story).
We had just finished a National Geographic Expedition in Paris and Provence, an exhilarating and challenging week. Cotton pushed you to be a better photographer, made you see things literally and figuratively from a different view, and always in his kind, friendly manner. A smile and a laugh were always close at hand (by the way, Cotton doesn't have a major sunburn in the photo above, we were just playing around with a red gel on a flash). And he pushed himself as well, I think he would have been the first to tell you he wanted to always be learning and improving too. In Arles, we had a wonderful lunch at a sidewalk café in the square where Van Gogh painted The Café Terrace. We chatted about the things going on in our lives, the upcoming wedding of Cotton and Sisse’s daughter, house renovations they were planning to work on during their upcoming summer off from travel and workshops. They would just be doing one more in Scandinavia before their summer break. Cotton and I talked about getting together to photograph a festival in Austria the following summer. The Cotton we knew loved to laugh and have fun. Do you remember the €2 “banana” encounter, Sisse? We still laugh about that, it’s something we’ll never forget!
We all said our goodbyes at the train station and went our separate ways. Cotton and I had traded emails a couple of times in the following weeks and then suddenly one afternoon I heard the news. No, I must be misunderstanding something, that can’t be right. I went to the NPPA website and there it was…I couldn’t believe it, somehow it was true. Cotton was one of those rare individuals that is instantly likeable, you know upon first meeting him you’re going to get along great.
Hanging on the wall in my office is a group photo from an Expedition in Rome. There’s Cotton front and center and I have to smile, because I had the pleasure and the privilege to know him. He was a good person, and I don’t know a better compliment to give than that.