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


  • Cock Robin

    Cock Robin
    Olive Edis (1876–1955)
    Silver print
    H 20 x W 15 cm
    Cromer Museum
    Cock Robin
    © 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
    Cromer Lighthouse
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: 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.


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


  • Cyril Nunn

    Cyril Nunn
    Olive Edis (1876–1955)
    Black & white print
    H 18.8 x W 13.6 cm
    Cromer Museum
    Cyril Nunn
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: 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.