The veteran National Geographic photographic team of Sisse and Cotton was born at a National Geographic photo seminar in 1976. Both in their early 20s at the time, they bonded over being assigned to attend the Nikon School afterwards, which was slated for more entry-level shooters. Now married for 30 years, the two credit Geographic as their matchmaker and now work together shooting for magazines, books and exhibits. Their careers flourished ever since their first meeting, first independently, then together. As they united more as a couple, so did their styles merge into a more unified message. They are currently working ona black and white body of work that they are expanding into a book and gallery exhibit.
imaginginfo.com: First of all, I have to ask the origin of both your names. Alone each name is truly original, but together they seem to go together like salt and pepper.
Cotton: I was named after Cotton Mather, the famous puritan minister from New England in the 17th century. People I have befriended over time have never had a problem remembering my name. Sisse and I continued the family tradition by naming our son, Calder, with the letter C.
Sisse: I was born very prematurely, two months to be precise. In Denmark, the nurses were taking care of me. They were the ones who gave me the nickname "sisse". Later on I was baptized Marie-Louise, but it never stuck, I have always gone by Sisse. Today our byline is Sisse Brimberg & Cotton Coulson- we like the way it sounds.
ii: Describe your most inspiring photographic assignment. Why? Where was it? When? Who was it for?
Cotton: Most inspiring for me was spending nearly nine months in Ireland working for National Geographic. This was long time ago, when photographers spent months in the field. I was inspired by the light and the people. I also had a wonderful photo editor named, Declan Haun (the late photojournalist known for his coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1960's), who gave me confidence and support to test the boundaries of my visual curiosity. I was also fortunate enough to have a one-man show at the old Nikon House Gallery at Rockefeller Center (New York City) after the story was completed.
Sisse: Recently, I have been working on a book about the Royal Theater in Denmark. It had been my dream for the last 15 years to work with this subject. I have always loved photographing people in the performing arts, and this book allowed me to explore multiple mediums, black & white and color film, as well as begin working with digital. Everybody and everything in the theater is moving all the time, it suits my love for motion, color, and textures.
ii: What are you both working on currently? Independent projects? Team projects?
Cotton: After spending 25 years working independently, we made the decision a few years ago to photograph and create images together. We continue to shoot magazine assignments with clients whom we enjoy working with, by that, I mean people who appreciate our photographic style, way of working, and vision. We are also working on a commission book project sponsored by the Nemours Foundation about the renovation of the Dupont Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware. Again, the director of the museum is a good friend, loves photography, and has given us complete creative freedom to document the project and people.
Regarding more personal work, we are focused on completing a body of work that explores the visual realm between narrative and abstract photography which we call, "The Space Between." …this is becoming a lifelong artistic pursuit for both of us. We hope to publish a book and have the work shown in galleries around the world. For now, this is our major focus, sharing these images and making our mark in the photographic artistic community and not be known only as accomplished photojournalists. It's very exciting, because now we are the ones pushing our work forward, trying to create entirely new ways of seeing. That is what photography is all about for us. We want to be challenged emotionally, and inspired by art in general.
ii: Explain some of the benefits and challenges of working together/being in the same field as a husband and wife. Do you ever draw inspiration from each other?
Sisse: In the beginning of our careers at the Geographic we never worked together on the same assignments. We traveled in separate directions. We pursued our own independent path, pitching and shooting assignments for the magazine. On two occasions we had stories right next to each other in the Geographic magazine. That was nice. Today, now that we work together within the framework of Keenpress, we encourage each other, and, at the same time push each other to create new and unique ways of seeing. We are competing with each other, but in a healthy way, knowing at the end of day, we collectively bring something back unique and new. That is our goal, to see the world in a different way. We travel extensively, and for me, having Cotton by my side makes a huge difference. I really could not travel alone any more, did not like having dinners by myself in restaurants reading books.
Digital has also changed our lives because now we shoot and ingest our images into one Aperture Project, objectively edit the images down to first set of selects, and click on the "batch rename" button. ‘There you are, Sisse and Cotton.' It feels collective all the way through the process. There are occasions where we really don't remember which of us took the photo. Thank goodness for EXIF registered serial numbers.
ii: What brought you to Digital Railroad (DRR)? What are you favorite features of DRR? Those which are most beneficial to your business/career?