Glasses is a significant work in the oeuvre of Australian photographer Olive Cotton. The photograph is emblematic of Cotton’s enduring artistic preoccupation with exhibiting the beauty and value of everyday objects. However, this image was not originally composed singularly out of artistic intention. Cotton recalls, ‘This photograph was commissioned as an advertisement for spectacle frames. I tried to make it more interesting by using the spotlight to cast longer shadows’ 1. In this way, Glasses straddles the space between the private sphere or domestic space and the commercial or public domain which many artists, including Cotton herself, were negotiating during the 1930s. It draws on a modernist aesthetic, seen particularly through Cotton’s use of shadow, to challenge the limitations of its otherwise humble subject matter.
Cotton grew up in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby, the eldest of five children. She was gifted a Kodak No 0 Brownie camera by an aunt at the age of eleven, igniting her life-long passion with photography. Cotton completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney with majors in Mathematic and English 1934. She defied her father’s wishes upon graduating and pursued a career in photography joining her childhood friend, Max Dupain’s studio at 24 Bond St, Sydney. Cotton continued to practice photography, alongside working as a teacher, after relocating from Sydney to the rural NSW district of Cowra in 1946 2. Her work has been exhibited extensively during her lifetime and posthumously, notably at the London Salon of Photography in 1935 and 1937 and with major retrospectives at the National Library of Australia and the Art Gallery of NSW in 2000.
1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p 10
2. Annear J 2015, ‘The photograph and Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney p 275
gelatin silver photograph
21.2 x 15.6 cm image/sheet
Signature & date
Signed l.l. verso, ink "Olive Cotton". Not dated.
Gift of the artist 1982
Not on display
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
In a certain light: Clarice Beckett and Olive Cotton, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Paddington, 08 Mar 1995–15 Apr 1995
Soft Shadows and Sharp Lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Sep 2002–17 Nov 2002
Sydney Moderns, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Jul 2013–07 Oct 2013
Referenced in 4 publications
Natasha Bullock (Curator), Soft shadows and sharp lines: Australian photography from Cazneaux to Dupain, Sydney, 2002. no pagination or catalogue numbers
Natasha Bullock, Look, 'Soft and sharp: how Australian photography moved between two styles', pg.21-22, Sydney, Oct 2002, 22.
Edmund Capon, Olive Cotton, 'Foreward', pg.4, Sydney, 2000, 4, 5 (illus.), 16, 24. cat.no. 21
Deborah Edwards, Sydney moderns: art for a new world, 'Ultra-moderne: 'Implement blue' and 'The Lacquer Room'', pg.148-153, Sydney, 2013, 153 (illus.).