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1911 – 2003

Olive Edith Cotton was born in Sydney and became interested in photography while still at school. She joined the Photographic Society of New South Wales around 1928 and continued her photography during 1930—33 whilst studying at Sydney University for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Cotton majored in Mathematics and English but chose to work in photography. and joined Max Dupain’s newly established studio in Bond Street in 1934.

Dupain and Cotton were childhood friends and married in 1939. By this time Cotton had moved out of the pictorial soft focus style of her early work (plate 11, trees and Wire 1930) into the still life studies with geometric shapes and dramatic lighting characteristic of the late 1930s, as in plates 61 (Tea Cup Ballet, c1937) and 62 (Glasses, c.1937).

In 1938 Cotton was a member of the Contemporary Camera Groupe exhibition which sought a more modern photography than that practised by the pictorialists.

In 1941, following her separation from Dupain, Cotton taught Mathematics at Frensham School. Mittagong. She was later commissioned to illustrate a book on the Sturt craft workshops. During Dupain’s war service she returned to run his studio and experimented with murals and decorative applications of photo-montage.

In 1944 Cotton re-married and in 1946 moved to Koorawatha, to her husband’s property.

Between 1959 and 1963 Cotton taught Mathematics in Cowra.

In 1964 she opened a small portrait studio in Cowra.

above text based on Gaël Newton's Silver & Grey
Angus and Roberston, Australia 1980




1911 Born in Hornsby, Sydney
1922 Given a Kodak Box Brownie camera or her eleventh birthday, taught the basics of photography by her father
1921-29 Attended Methodist Ladies College in Burwood
1929 Joined the Sydney Camera Circle and the Photographic Society of NSW
1930-34 Bachelor of Arts, Sydney University, majoring in English and mathematics
1934 Worked in the studio of childhood friend and fellow photographer, Max Dupain
1939 Married Max Dupain. They separated two years later and divorced in 1944
1941 Moved to Mittagong, NSW, to teach mathematics at Frensham School
1942-45 Returned to Sydney to manage Max Dupain’s studio while he was on war service
1942 Produced first industrial and architectural photographic work
1944 Married farmer Ross McInerney before his departure overseas on war service
1945 Numerous commissions, including photographs of winter and spring flowers for Helen Blaxland’s book ‘Flowerpieces’
1946 Moved to Koorawatha near Cowra, NSW. Daughter Sally born 1946
1948 Son Peter born
1959-63 Taught mathematics at Cowra High School
1964 Opened a small photographic studio in Cowra, taking mainly portraits and wedding photographs
1980 Photographs acquired by the Art Gallery of NSW following their publication in Gael Newton's 'Silver and Grey: Fifty years of Australian photography 1900-1950'
1982 Photographs from the 'Australian Women Photographers' exhibition acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
1986 Large group of photographs acquired by the National Gallery of Australia
1989 Photographs purchased by the Waverley City Collection, Melbourne
1991 Release of 'Light Years', Kathryn Millard's documentary film on the artist's life and work
1991 'Teacup Ballet' published on a stamp to mark the 150th anniversary of photography in Australia
1992 Photographs purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria



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