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Cotton Coulson, Nationwide Geographic Photographer, Dies

Cotton Coulson, a National Geographic photographer and filmmaker, died on Wednesday, May 27, after losing consciousness while diving off the coast of Norway.

The dive was part of a 17-day National Geographic expedition to the Norwegian fjords and the Arctic Svalbard archipelago on a 150-passenger cruise ship operated by National Geographic Expeditions and Lindblad Expeditions.

Coulson, 63, has directed more than 40 stories for National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler. He spent most of his career in Europe, shooting and filming a number of missions ranging from the Arctic and Scandinavia to Italy and France.

In recent years, Coulson and his wife, photographer Sisse Brimberg, have served as experts on National Geographic expeditions, leading photo walks, training tourists in photography and telling stories about their time there.

“National Geographic is devastated by the loss of our longtime friend and collaborator,” said Lynn Cutter, executive vice president of travel and licensing at National Geographic.

Coulson and Brimberg, Cutter added, “were adored by the crew, staff and guests who were fortunate enough to travel with them.”

The incident occurred on Sunday, May 24, on the fifth day of the cruise. According to members of the cruise team, Colson and his diving partner were diving into cold water to capture images to be shared with passengers on the cruise when Coulson signaled his partner to surface.

Shortly afterwards, Coulson lost consciousness. He was helped to the surface and onto a rubber dinghy and taken back to the ship. He was then transported to a local hospital in Sandnessjoen, Norway, and then transferred to a larger facility in Tromsø. He died on Wednesday evening.

Coulson graduated from New York University Film School in 1975 and joined National Geographic as a contract photographer in 1976. His assignments included stories about Ireland, Berlin and the Brendan Voyage, a sixth-century Irish monk's sailing voyage across the Atlantic. Coulson has won numerous awards from the National Press Photographers Association and the White House Press Photographers Association.

He was also an assistant cameraman at US News & World Report and a cameraman at the Baltimore Sun.

In the mid-1990s, Coulson joined the Internet revolution and moved his family to San Francisco, where he became vice president of CNET Networks, a media website focused on technology news.

The family then moved to Paris and later to Denmark, Sisse's home country.

“The wonderful thing about Cotton was how completely he immersed himself in his stories,” said Cathy Newman, author and editor of National Geographic. “When he wrote a story about Italy, he came back completely Italian, with this tailored, elegant Italian suit and exquisitely polished leather shoes. While writing a story about Kansas, he came back chewing on a stalk of wheat. Sisse used to say that she never knew who she would meet when she got off the plane after completing an errand.”

Coulson and Sisse met at a National Geographic photography seminar and worked together often over the course of their 30-year marriage. They own a media company, KEENPRESS, which produces photographs and HD films on the topics of the environment, climate science and international travel.

“Most of us divide our time between family and work,” said Ford Cochran, program director for National Geographic Expeditions. “They found a way to combine those things and do the things they loved.”

In addition to his wife, Coulson is survived by their adult children, daughter Saskia and son Calder; his parents, Robert Coulson and Mary Evangelista; two sisters and three brothers.

Service plans will be announced at a later date.

Check out some of Cotton Coulson's work

A ride at dawnA fisherman cuts through the morning light on Lake Hallstatt in Austria in 2009. “His photographs were imbued with a really subtle beauty,” says Moran.

Photo by KEENPRESS/Nat Geo Image Collection

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