Beginnings

First posts are always difficult, so let’s start with the easy bit. My name is Liz, and I have just started working on this HLF-funded project at Cromer Museum as the Olive Edis Project Assistant. I will be updating this blog regularly, as well as working on many other aspects of the project. If you’re interested in early photography, the role of women in the early 20th Century, the Great War, the history of Norfolk, or the internal workings of a lottery funded project, this blog is for you! We will naturally wander across a wide range of other topics, but let’s start with those few and see where we end up.

OliveEdis

Olive Edis (autochrome self portrait)

You may be wondering, firstly, “who was Olive Edis?” This is a question we hope to answer over the course of this project, but to begin with here’s a succinct biography, courtesy of HLF:

Born in 1876, Olive Edis forged a remarkable and renowned career. An early user of the Lumière brothers’ autochrome technique, her work includes some of the first colour photographs of Canada. She opened her own studio in Sheringham and became famous for her portraits of people from all walks of life – from Norfolk fishermen to Prime Ministers and the Royal Family.

Her talents were soon recognised by the Imperial War Museum which commissioned her to photograph the people, particularly women in the armed services, and the effects of the First World War. Olive’s mission included a tour of Belgium and France in 1919 where she captured some of the devastating impacts of the conflict, including in Ypres.

Today, her work is displayed at Cromer Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Media Museum and even in Austin, Texas at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre.

In 2008, Cromer Museum acquired a collection of some 2000 prints, glass plate negatives and autochromes by Edis. Now, with an £81,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are delighted to be able to bring her work to a wider audience. We will be putting together a touring exhibition of her work, completely redisplaying the Edis collection on show at Cromer Museum, and producing a publication to replace the only existing book on her work which has long since gone out of print. We’ll also be running talks and workshops, and there will be plenty of opportunity for young people to get involved with the project, including drama workshops and school sessions.

Souwester

Olive Edis wearing a sou’wester (self portrait)

One of the documents I’ll be referring to regularly in this blog, and throughout the project, is Edis’ own journal of her travels around Europe in 1919 as part of her commission from the IWM. In March 1919 she set off on her travels, keeping a full diary of her progress, including descriptions of the people she met, and how her photographs were achieved. I had hoped to borrow from her first entry as an introduction, to help me out with my “first post” block, but ironically page 1 is missing from our copy! Who knows, perhaps Edis had trouble getting started too. Judging from the rest of her entries though, I rather doubt it! She has a wonderfully confident and witty style, whether discussing her work, the war, or indeed what she had for lunch that day. (I promise not to include too much information on my own eating habits in my blog entries.)

As much as this blog will provide a record of the project and our progress as we celebrate her work through exhibitions, workshops and online access to the collection, I hope that it will also record my journey as I get to know this pioneering woman, and allow you to do the same.

Cromer Museum Curator Alistair Murphy jokingly said to me today that he’s the only person permitted to call Edis by her first name, having spent the last eight years getting to know her – but we hope that by the end of this project, she will be a household name, not only in Norfolk but around the country. And maybe, just maybe, by the end of my contract I’ll be allowed to call her “Olive”!