This photograph belongs to a series of four nude images taken by Cotton in 1941. They were commissioned by the subject who intended the photographs for her husband, a Captain of the AIF serving in the Middle East and North African campaigns during the Second World War. At once they underscore a very private relationship between the subject and her husband as well as communicate more general ideas about health and beauty prevalent in 1940s Australia. In all four images, the subject poses turning and relaxing her body in a manner that allows her to receive maximum exposure to sunlight. Time spent in the sun was considered to be vital to combating diseases such as tuberculosis and was, more generally, perceived as central to aiding health and well-being 1. This series is the only known examples of studies of nudes photographed by Olive Cotton.
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. Annear J 2015, ‘The photograph and Australia’ Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney p 50; Crombie I 2004, ‘Body culture: Max Dupain, photography and Australian culture’ National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
2. Annear J 2015, ‘The photograph and Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney p 275
gelatin silver photograph
19.6 x 17.8 cm image [irreg.]; 20.1 x 18.3 cm sheet [irreg.]
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. sheet, pencil "Olive Cotton '41".
Gift of Joan Baines 2000
Not on display
Unable to display image due to image restrictions