Olive Cotton Award

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The Olive Cotton Award is a $20,000 biennial national award for excellence in photographic portraiture in memory of photographer Olive Cotton.

The exhibition is selected from entrants across Australia and is a significant opportunity for established and emerging photographers. The winning work is acquired for the Gallery’s collection.

  • First prize: $20,000 acquisitive
  • Director's Choice: purchases up to wholesale value of $4,000
  • People's Choice: $500 (announced at end of exhibition)

The 2023 Award judge is Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham.

Key dates

  • Entries opened Wednesday 1 February 2023 and close Sunday 30 April 2023 at 5 pm.
  • Finalists announced 29 May 2023.
  • Winners announced 15 July.
  • Exhibition dates 14 July - 24 September 2023.

2023 Olive Cotton Award conditions of entry(PDF, 300KB)
2023 Olive Cotton Award FAQs(PDF, 314KB)

2023 Olive Cotton Award online application form

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About the award Past awards

2023 judge

Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham
Image credit: Zan Wimberley

The 2023 Award judge is Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham. Mudie Cunningham is an independent curator and critic renowned for his work with contemporary Australian artists and collections. He is also a practicing artist whose work over three decades is the subject of a survey exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery in mid 2023. Previously, he was the Director of Programs and Senior Curator at Carriageworks from 2017-2022. He has held leadership and curatorial roles at Artbank and Hazelhurst Arts Centre, and teaching and research positions at Western Sydney University, where he completed a BA Honours (First Class) in Art History and Criticism in 1997 and a PhD in Cultural Studies in 2004.

Notable recent work at Carriageworks includes solo projects with Reko Rennie, Mel O'Callaghan, Karla Dickens, Dean Cross and Cherine Fahd, among others; curating The National 2019: New Australian Art; and initiating Suspended Moment: The Katthy Cavaliere Fellowship which partnered Carriageworks with ACCA and Mona by commissioning major new works by Frances Barrett, Sally Rees and Giselle Stanborough. In 2022, Suspended Moment was adapted as an exhibition that will tour to eight venues over two years through Museums and Galleries of NSW. Upcoming work includes curating Cementa24 at Kandos in NSW.

About the award

The Olive Cotton 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 $500 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.

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.

Past awards

2023 story video image credit

  • Finalist 2021 Olive Cotton Award Finn Negrello, ‘Yaw in Polish’ (detail) 2021. © The artist.
  • Finalist 2021 Olive Cotton Award, Bob and Rusty Crawshaw ‘The Fates and George’ (detail) 2021, Pigment print. © The artist.
  • Finalist 2021 Olive Cotton Award Mark Forbes ‘Perfect stranger’ (detail) 2019, c-type print from medium format negative. © The artist.
  • Finalist 2021 Olive Cotton Award, Jacqui Stockdale ‘The Assistants’ (detail) 2021, C Type Print. © The artist.
  • Finalist 2021 Olive Cotton Award Paula Mahoney ‘A backward safari’ (detail) 2021, pigment print. © The artist.
  • Finalist 2021 Olive Cotton Award Mia Mala McDonald, ‘Bill Henson on a Sunday afternoon’ (detail) 2020. © The artist.