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Olive Cotton Award

The Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture is a $20,000 biennial national award for excellence in photographic portraiture dedicated to the memory of photographer Olive Cotton. The winning work is acquired for the Gallery’s Collection. The exhibition is selected from entrants across Australia and is a significant opportunity for photographers living and working in Australia.

The award was launched in 2005, and is funded by Olive Cotton’s family and dedicated to her memory as one of Australia’s leading twentieth century photographers. The Award has grown and gained national recognition attracting entries from well-known and emerging photographers across Australia. The award boasts a major acquisitive biennial prize of $20,000, selected by the Award judge. In addition, the Friends of the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre Inc. fund $4000 for the acquisition of portraits from the exhibition entries to be chosen by the Gallery Director. Visitors to the exhibition may also vote for their 'people’s choice', which awards $250 for to the most popular finalist.

The Gallery thanks art dealer Josef Lebovic and photographer Sally McInerney, Olive Cotton’s daughter, for their ongoing support of the Award and also the Friends of the Gallery committee for their contributions, both financial and practical, to the Award and public program events. We also thank the many volunteers who assist with the huge task of receiving and despatching artworks and many other facets of the Prize organisation.

A short biography of Olive Cotton

Olive Cotton Olive Cotton (1911-2003) discovered the art of photography in childhood and stayed committed to it all her life. Her mother was a talented painter who died young; her father, a geologist, had learnt the elements of photography for his journey to the Antarctic in 1907 and later taught it to his children.

Having graduated with an Arts degree, Olive Cotton worked successfully as a photographer at the Dupain studios in Sydney until the end of World War II, then moved with her new husband Ross McInerney, to the bush near Koorawatha, NSW. For 20 years she had no access to darkroom facilities, but kept taking photographs.

In 1964 Cotton opened a small studio in Cowra and took local portraits, weddings and commissions. After a 40 year absence from the city art scene she re-emerged in 1985 with her first solo show at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, she then concentrated on rediscovering and printing her life's work. A major exhibition of Cotton's works was shown at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2000.

Adapted from information provided by Sally McInerney, May 2005.

Olive Cotton Award past winners

Justine Varga Maternal Line

Justine Varga
Maternal Line 2017
chromogenic hand printed photograph from 5 x 4 inch negative
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2017
courtesy of the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide


Winner Olive Cotton Award 2015

Natalie Grono
Pandemonium's shadow 2015
pigment inkjet print
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2015



Trent Parke Candid portrait of a woman on a street corner


Trent Parke

Candid portrait of a woman on a street corner 2013
pigment print
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2013




Dean_Tamara_Damien_Skiper_Olive Cotton Winner 2011


Tamara Dean
Damien Skipper 2011
pure pigment print on rag paper
Acquired as the Winner of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture, 2011

2017 Olive Cotton Award exhibition of finalists

On exhibition at Tweed Regional Gallery Friday 21 July to Sunday 8 October 2017

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Last Updated: 13 November 2018