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Olive Edis (1876–1955) was the first female war photographer and, against the expectations of her gender during the Edwardian era, achieved a great deal of success. From the fishermen of Norfolk, to the literary elite and members of the Royal Family, she captured portraits of the entire spectrum of British society in the first half of the twentieth century.


Still today, many of her photographs can be viewed in Cromer Museum, which acquired a vast collection of her works from her former assistant Cyril Nunn.


Take a look at five of her startling photographs on Art UK.

Artists featured in this Curation: Olive Edis (1876–1955)
5 artworks

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Olive Edis Wearing Sou'wester Hat
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Cromer Museum

Olive Edis Wearing Sou'wester Hat

Olive Edis Wearing Sou'wester Hat
Olive Edis (1876–1955)
Black & white print
H 15 x W 10 cm
Cromer Museum

Early years

Born on 3rd September 1876, she took up photography at the turn of the century, after being gifted her first camera in 1900 by her cousin Caroline. In 1905 Edis and her younger sister Katharine moved to the Norfolk seaside town of Sheringham, where they set up their first photographic studio together.

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Cock Robin
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Cromer Museum

Cock Robin

Cock Robin
Olive Edis (1876–1955)
Silver print
H 20 x W 15 cm
Cromer Museum

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Cromer Lighthouse
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Cromer Museum

Cromer Lighthouse

Cromer Lighthouse
Olive Edis (1876–1955)
Black & white print
H 10.5 x W 15 cm
Cromer Museum

Photographic techniques

Over the course of her career, Edis experimented with photographic techniques, becoming a pioneer in the medium. She even patented her own 'diascope' design and developed the Lumiere Brothers' autochrome colour process.

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Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848–1939)
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Cromer Museum

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848–1939)

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848–1939) 1900–1955
Olive Edis (1876–1955)
Black & white print
H 17.5 x W 12 cm
Cromer Museum

Photographing high society

Olive was known for offering a unique glimpse into the personal, inner worlds of her subjects, including members of high society, politicians and the Royal Family.

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Cyril Nunn
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Cromer Museum

Cyril Nunn

Cyril Nunn
Olive Edis (1876–1955)
Black & white print
H 18.8 x W 13.6 cm
Cromer Museum

Her legacy

The last photograph ever taken by Edis was of her close friend and assistant Cyril Nunn in 1953/4. She left her estate to Cyril, including her photographs, prints, glass plate negatives and autocrhomes.

When discussing Olive's fascination for the lives of those living in the rural coastal towns of Norfolk and Suffolk, Cyril said: 'she always said she would be remembered by her pictures of them and not all the portraits of society people.'

Although she is not known as a household photographer today, Olive's legacy is coming back into the limelight. An exhibition 'Fishermen and Kings' at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery opened in 2017, assembling her vast collection of photographic portraits.