Review

Australian photographer Olive Cotton is brought to a life in a new biography

By Richard Johnstone
November 8 2019 - 6:00pm
Olive Cotton holding a camera. Picture: Courtesy of the NSW State Library.

Of all the works of the Australian photographer Olive Cotton, Teacup Ballet is the best known. Made in 1935, when Cotton was only twenty-four, this remarkable image taps into currents of modernism, both national and international, that Cotton seems to have recognised and absorbed almost instinctively. It shows inanimate objects, half a dozen cups in their saucers, in a configuration that by means of careful placement and sophisticated use of light and shadow conveys a strong sense of theatrical performance, of objects brought to choreographed life. Everything about it speaks of deliberation and control, yet the overall effect is of a kind of geometric vitality.

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