Dead Sunflowers 1985




CMAG Collection Series

5 July - 21 September 2008
Gallery 5

Olive Cotton

Born in Sydney in 1911, Olive Cotton had no formal training in photography but produced some of the most memorable and beautiful images in Australia’s visual arts history
(for example, Teacup ballet 1935). An early interest in photography manifested itself in her memberships of the Sydney Camera Circle and the Photographic Society of New South Wales. On graduating from the University of Sydney with a BA in 1934, Cotton foreswore the expected move into teaching to work as an assistant in the studio of Max Dupain (to whom she was married from 1939 to 1941). Cotton would work with Dupain until 1941 when, ironically, she left to take up a teaching post
at Frensham in Mittagong, south of Sydney. This position was short-lived and Cotton took over management of Dupain’s business while he was on war service from late 1941 to 1945.

During this fruitful time, Cotton continued to develop her own photographic practice and,
as well as receiving a number of commissions, regularly and successfully exhibited in shows organised by various photographic groups in Sydney and elsewhere.

In 1946 Cotton moved with her husband, Ross McInerney, to the Cowra district in central New South Wales where she would live and work until her death in 2003.  Cotton’s reputation as
a photographer and the understanding of her importance in the history of Australia’s visual arts is relatively recent. The coincidence of the resurgence of art photography and feminist investigations of our (art) history in the early 1980s resulted in a number of exhibitions in which Cotton’s work was featured. Subsequently it has been showcased in numerous exhibitions and publications. Her importance is now a given.

Cotton’s deep attraction to the landscape and love of nature are clearly seen in the four works currently on display. Each image is the result of carefully considered selection of subject and place. For her, the light of the Australian bush is of paramount importance in drawing forth the nuanced beauties of the flora and landforms that constitute the landscape. Her works are subtle and fine; delicately modulated patterns of black and white that capture the essence of their subject.

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