Helen Ennis

A lover of photography since childhood, by the time Olive Cotton, who was born in Sydney in 1911, was in her twenties she was already creating the pictures that were to define her as one of Australia’s foremost women photographers, although this would not be acknowledged until the 1980s. Apart from the photographs she made, Cotton left little material trace of a life that spanned nine decades (she died in 2003). This lack of physical evidence presented a challenge for biographer Helen Ennis, a former curator of photography at the National Gallery of Australia and an art historian, who has nonetheless managed to weave a compelling, if at times diaphanous, narrative.

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Vivian Maier has received the kind of attention most photographers and artists can only dream of – multiple monographs, documentary films, commercial gallery representation, extraordinary public interest, and now a biography. However, all this activity and acclaim has occurred posthumously. In her lifetime ...

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This exhibition has a clear aim – to prove that Robert Mapplethorpe ‘is among the most significant artist of his time’. The evidence marshalled by the curators at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum is substantial. They have conducted extensive research, sourced outstanding vintage prints ...

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One of the big attractions of this book is the portraits and self-portraits of the photographers who are its subject. Diane Arbus, in the early stages of pregnancy, looks whimsically at her reflection in a full-length mirror; Robert Mapplethorpe's face leaps out of the darkness, paired with his skull-topped walking stick; Margaret Bourke-White perches with her camer ...

Helen Ennis writes at length about the great modernist photographer Olive Cotton and her second marriage to Ross McInerney, which took her far from the art world – and from her art. ... (read more)

Everyone, I suspect, has a favourite photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mine shows two couples picnicking beside what I have always thought was the Marne River but turns out to be somewhere else altogether. Juvisy (1938), as it is now titled, depicts urban workers relaxing near a man-made pond in the suburbs of Paris. This is indicative of the exhaustive research of Peter Galassi and his colleagues, who have brought to light a huge amount of new information on Cartier-Bresson and his photographs. Their book has been published to accompany a Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where Galassi is chief curator of photography.

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Helen Ennis’s book Reveries: Photography and mortality, published by the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra to accompany her recent exhibition, is a fascinating choice of subject for an institution that deals with portraiture. As the author notes, ‘In the face of mortality the touchstones of portraiture are gently nudged aside … to encompass the possibility of dissolution or dispersal of self.’ This expanded definition of portraiture is apparent from the cover of this sensitively designed book, which features a photograph by Ruth Maddison. Titled The beginning of absence, the photograph shows a domestic interior dissolving into light and suggests Maddison’s feelings when confronting the imminent death of her father. It is a ‘portrait’ composed not of physical detail but emotion, and is no less descriptive of a person and a relationship for that.

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