Dan Cotton's style of photography looks for softness in athletic physiques

Opening next week in Hong Kong is an exhibition by photographer Dan Cotton, whose work spans sensual human forms and inventively captured city scenes. “Borderless is a portrait photography exhibition centred on the blurring and blending of different styles of photography and perspectives from the neon lights of Hong Kong streets and the studio,” Cotton says, explaining his eye is drawn to the “strength and fragility of faces, bodies and movements”.

Drawn to “mystery, whimsy and drama”, Cotton employs techniques such as layering and shadow to draw viewers into his photos and evoke deeper meanings by juxtaposing contrasting objects or expressions within the same image. “Long Night in Hong Kong”, for example, is a double-exposure image that blends a female nude shot in a studio with a long-exposure nightscape that will be instantly recognisable to Hongkongers.

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Cotton, originally from the UK, grew up in an artistic family, but found that photography was more his calling than drawing or painting. “As a teenager, that meant a dark room in my brother-in-law's attic and experimenting with my dad’s old manual Minolta film camera,” he says. In 2018, a career change brought him back to photography and he finally began pursuing it as a profession. Last year, Cotton and fellow photographer Michael Kistler founded Click852, which holds workshops and mentoring sessions to share the art of photography with others.

Here, in his own words, Cotton discusses his upcoming exhibition and the instincts that guide his work.

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"Long Night in Hong Kong" (Photo: Dan Cotton)
Above "Long Night in Hong Kong" (Photo: Dan Cotton)

On the inspiration behind Borderless

First, street and portrait photography are both part of me and I found the perspectives, colours and sensibility moving from one to the other seamlessly in my work. Second, photographers often imagine and create a series of images, so often distilled into just one. So I wanted to put together a collection of work that removed boundaries of where it was shot and the orientation or number of images in a piece. I hope it brings viewers closer to the imagination that can be behind photography.

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On how his work has been influenced by the pandemic

The influence started unconsciously, shooting more street with lone figures or more anonymous and body portraits in the studio. That developed more intention with pieces such as Contact Portrait, a series of studio portraits shot at one of the peaks of Covid, where I mask half the subject’s face with shadows in every shot.

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"Strength in Pieces" (Photo: Dan Cotton)
Above "Strength in Pieces" (Photo: Dan Cotton)

On how he uses the human body to tell a story

Our bodies communicate many things at the same time. While I use composition, colour, shadows to help me create a story, the two things that really drive it are a feeling of movement and a balance of vulnerability and strength. In Borderless I also use multiple images in one piece to tell a more complex story, for example in Animal Flow or Strength in Pieces.

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On what photographing Hong Kong has taught him about the city

You have to edit it to make it mean something to you—I don’t mean using Photoshop, which I never use. I mean Hong Kong is so dense in every aspect that you simply have to select the scenes that work for you and focus on those.

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"Contact Portrait" (Photo: Dan Cotton)
Above "Contact Portrait" (Photo: Dan Cotton)

October 26 to 30. Opening Night: October 27, including wine and art pairing in collaboration with HK Wine Adventures, as well as live movement performance from one of Cotton’s dance subjects.

Location: Home Kong, G/F Building 90-92 Hollywood Road, Central. dancottonphotography.com


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