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An image of 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' by Olive Cotton

Olive Cotton

(Australia 11 Jul 1911 – 27 Sep 2003)

'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind'
circa 1939
Media category
Materials used
gelatin silver photograph, vintage

33.2 x 30.0 cm image/sheet; 41.8 x 35.4 cm original mount

Signature & date
Signed l.r. mount, pencil "Olive Cotton". Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006
Accession number
Major exhibition gallery
Further information

‘Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind’ appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, 'O summer sun':
O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

Bibliography (2)

Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The photograph and portraiture', pg.15-31, Sydney, 2007, 17 (illus.), 28 (illus.).

Helen Ennis, Olive Cotton, Sydney, 2000, cover (illus.), 64 (illus.).

Exhibition history (3)

Olive Cotton:

What's in a face? aspects of portrait photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Sep 2011–05 Feb 2012

The photograph and Australia, 21 Mar 2015–08 Jun 2015