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Australian art


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Through the fence

circa 1934
printed 1980


Olive Cotton


11 Jul 1911 - 27 Sep 2003


Through the fence was taken by Cotton during the early stages of her career and is testament to her experimental style in which ‘shadows have an active and mobile role’ 1. The relatively sharp focus placed on the mesh fence, and the comparatively softer focus in which the trees and foliage are captured, gives the scene a transient quality. Such play with focus and shadow flattens the picture, reducing its depth. There is an ethereal quality to the foliage even though, as the title suggests, the fence acts only as the conduit through which to view the object of the picture: the environment beyond.
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 3. 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 Gallery in 2000.
1. Ennis H 2000, ‘Olive Cotton’ Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney p 24
2. Annear J 2015, ‘The photograph and Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney p 275



circa 1934
printed 1980

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


20.4 x 28.0 cm image/sheet; 31.9 x 38.3 cm card

Signature & date

Signed l.r. card, pencil "Olive Cotton". Dated c. verso card, pencil "...about 1934".


Gift of the artist 1980


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Olive Cotton

Works in the collection