Cultivating History, Documenting Dreams

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Jan 30, 2020
by Oscar Tollast
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Cultivating History, Documenting Dreams

Photographer and designer Jose Cotto reflects on his return to Salzburg Global Seminar and helping YCI Fellows reach their destinations Jose Cotto at Salzburg Global Seminar

Jose Cotto is neither here nor there, neither present nor missing. “I’m back, but I’m not back,” he says while reflecting on his participation at the sixth program of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI).

Cotto, who attended the fifth program in 2018, has returned to Salzburg Global Seminar as a facilitator. His attendance was made possible thanks to the Kresge Foundation. During the program, the New Orleans-based photographer and designer has been capturing candid images and one-on-one portraits with participants. 

“I’ve been trying to find moments – or letting moments find me – where Fellows are sitting with something,” Cotto says. “Where you can tell that something is just resonating just by the body language, the expression, the sort of feeling, and the energy in the room and space.”

Remaining visible while invisible isn’t an unusual skill for Cotto. It’s his mantra. With his photography and design practice, josecottoCREATIVE, Cotto has often explored the relationships between people, place, and time. 

While taking one-on-one portraits, Cotto has asked the newest YCI Fellows to meditate on their time in Salzburg before photographing the moment they transition from “there to here.” 

Cotto believes within all of us lie GPS coordinates for the destination we’re trying to reach. Some of us get off-track, but we don’t lose sight of what that end goal looks like. Cotto suggests the portraits should serve as a compass to help YCI Fellows reach their dreams. 

“The hope is that they’ll have this portrait as a reminder of the place that they went to so that they can revisit it whenever they feel like they’re… losing their course or straying in the wrong direction.”

While growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts, art was a means to escape, forget, and remember for Cotto. Reflecting on his journey this past year, Cotto reveals he has purposefully slowed down. He says, “I’ve still been making work, but it’s been at a very different rate. It’s been a lot more intentional.” 

He’s found time to teach university students and review his archive of work, which dates back more than 10 years and features more than 100,000 photos. Since starting a new job at the Small Center, a community design center at Tulane’s School of Architecture, Cotto has also found time to focus on his architectural and design work. 

“Consistently, throughout it all, it’s been a desire and understanding that slowing down at this point in my life is sort of where I’m at, and the experiences that I’ve been having… really trying to absorb those things as much as possible to try to extrapolate the sort of lessons and the findings that ultimately, I believe, will reveal sort of a… clearer blueprint, if you will, of what it is that I’m actually building and creating.” 

For Cotto, Schloss Leopoldskron is a place tied up with “beautiful moments and conversations.” He’s aware of how significant the experience was for him in 2018 and how much of that came from the shared space built among the Fellows. It’s affected how he’s interacted with Fellows at the 2019 program. 

He says, “I know how lively and enriching these conversations are, and I want to be part of them because those are the things that I love, right? But I’m also mindful that this is an important space for the Fellows to have.”

Memories ignite as Cotto walks through Schloss Leopoldskron’s grounds and corridors. “It feels like I belong in this space... This is a space that I will revisit again throughout my lifetime,” Cotto says. “So, in a lot of ways, it feels like home...”

In January 2020, Cotto’s photos were chosen to feature in a new exhibition housed in Schloss Leopoldskron’s Meierhof Café. His photos appear alongside fellow YCI Yasmine Omari, who also attended the sixth program of the YCI Forum. 


The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Cultural Innovation, Leadership and Collaboration: A Global Platform, is part of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators Forum multi-year series. The program is held in partnership with Adena and David Testa, Arts Council Korea, Arts Council Malta, the Bush Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts, Japan Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Nippon Foundation, Salama Bint Hamdan al Nahyan Foundation, Shalini Passi Art Foundation, and World Culture Open.