On the road with ‘The Road to Ypres’

Yesterday the project team took to the road to deliver and install The Road to Ypres, our travelling exhibition of Olive Edis’ war photography, at the Museum of Farnham in Surrey. This is the second stop on the tour but the first venue to show the full exhibition, which is designed to be modular and flexible to suit a range of different sized venues. Edis had a temporary studio in Farnham, so we’re really excited to be able to show her work here.

As well as exploring the photographs Edis took as part of her war commission from the Imperial War Museum, the exhibition touches on her other work and offers visitors the chance to dress up and take a seat in The Studio for a photo. There is also a touchscreen interactive featuring extracts from Edis’ war journal, along with a further selection of images from Cromer Museum’s collection and the three short films made by Paston College students that I mentioned in a previous post.

This stop on the tour coincides with The Museum of Farnham’s exhibition of the work of local engineer and inventor John Henry Knight (1847-1917) , a prolific photographer who recorded many aspects of Edwardian life – a perfect pairing for The Road to Ypres!

Find out more about both exhibitions and related events at The Museum of Farnham here.

A Picture of Inspiration

Recently the Olive Edis project team attended a very special performance at Sheringham Little Theatre entitled “Olive Edis: A Picture of Inspiration”. The play, produced and performed by the theatre’s youth drama group, had its debut showing to a full house on Friday 19th May.

Sheringham Youth Theatre production of  Olive Edis - A Picture Of Inspiration. Pictures from the technical rehearsal at the Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: James Bass Photography

Over the last few months, Sheringham Youth Theatre have been working with Youth Engagement Officer Tricia Hall and the project team to produce a short play about Olive Edis’ life and work, supported by our grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since the first rehearsal back in February, the group have worked with a professional team – writer Steve Banks and director Bridget Robinson – to write and perform their own brilliant re-telling of Olive Edis’ fascinating story.Sheringham Youth Theatre production of  Olive Edis - A Picture Of Inspiration. Pictures from the technical rehearsal at the Sheringham Little Theatre. Picture: James Bass Photography

The show begins with a school presentation on Olive Edis from student Lauren, who is initially less than enthusiastic about the chosen topic – that is, until Olive herself turns up to tell the story in her own words! There were tears and laughter on Friday night as the cast took us seamlessly from breakdancing selfies (no, really!) to the horror of World War One, while Olive herself made sure the audience heard the real truth of the story – and discovered how new technology has made a camera as portable as a pocket watch. Along the way we met Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor (one of her many ‘firsts’, as we learned!), Old Pegg, a local fisherman, and even the King of England himself. The students used projections of Olive Edis’ photographs from the Cromer Museum collection to set the scene and help tell the story – a touch of genius which even allowed Olive and the students to swap selfies!

The play was a delight from start to finish, and it was a real treat and privilege to see the work and enthusiasm that the whole group put into it. Our philosophy while working on the project has always been, “what would Olive Edis think of this?” – we’re absolutely sure that she would have thoroughly enjoyed the show!

A huge thank you from the whole project team to the incredibly talented young people at SheringhamYouth Theatre, Sheringham Little Theatre, Steve Banks, Bridget Robinson, and everyone involved with the show.

(Photos from the technical rehearsal by James Bass)

Fishermen to Kings: The Forgotten Photographs of Olive Edis

Over the last few months we’ve been working with local film company Eye Film on a documentary about Olive Edis for Mustard TV and BBC East. The programme follows world-renowned photographer Rankin as he discovers more about her life and work, and attempts to recreate Edis’ signature style using her original camera in a photoshoot at her old Sheringham studio with Lord of the Rings actor Bernard Hill. We saw it for the first time last night and we are delighted with the results! I’m so pleased that she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves.

The documentary aired on BBC East last night and is now available to watch online via BBC iPlayer (until 3rd May 2017):

Fishermen to Kings: The Forgotten Photographs of Olive Edis

The camera that Rankin uses in the documentary is the ‘Ashford New Patent’, a half-plate camera dating from the late 19th century. It’s one of several cameras that we hold in our collection which were originally owned by  Olive Edis. You can see it on display along with some of her other studio equipment here at Cromer Museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a beautiful, quality camera, and would have been an expensive purchase. Edis almost certainly acquired it second-hand (the patent is dated 1887, and the dealer’s name on the front plate dates it to pre-1894 – some years before she took up photography) and I imagine it saw a fair amount of use in its day. The fact that it is still in good working order today, around 125 years later,  is a real testament to the camera’s quality.

The patent in the camera’s name was granted for its unique folding design. The bellows and focusing screen can be collapsed to make the camera more portable (see some photos of it collapsed here). The advantage of this folding design is that the lens doesn’t need to be removed and the bellows and focusing screen are protected – the front panel ends up on the top, keeping everything covered.  (Thanks to RedBellows.co.uk for providing more information on this.)

The lens doesn’t have a shutter attached, but Edis would have almost certainly used one. Early lenses didn’t have built-in shutters like modern cameras – long exposure times on wet-plate processes meant that simply removing the lens cap and counting was enough. With the invention of gelatin dry plates, which Edis used, exposure times were much shorter and so a shutter capable of exposing the plate for fractions of a second became a necessity. Photographers could buy shutters and attach them to their existing lenses.

You’ll notice in the documentary that Rankin simply removes the lens cap and counts his exposure time. That’s because the speed of a commercially produced gelatin dry plate isn’t achievable with a home-made version, so the plates he used (made by early photography expert Kevin Lunham) required longer exposure times than Edis would have needed.

You’ll have to watch the documentary to find out whether the shoot was successful or not! I hope you enjoy it – let us know what you thought in the comments.

Our new galleries are open!

Phew – it’s been an extremely busy few weeks since my last post, but I’m delighted to say that our new permanent displays of Olive Edis’ life and work are now open!

Our fantastic design and technical team have worked miracles in our little fisherman’s cottage, and completely transformed these two rooms. Despite having built new walls inside both rooms, somehow they have made them seem even bigger than before!

My personal favourite bit of our new displays is the big case full of Edis’ cameras, which you can see in the collage above (click for bigger versions). For scale, the photo backdrop to the case, showing Edis in the Canadian Rockies, is slightly larger than life-size, so the case is more than big enough to accommodate ‘The Countess’ camera mounted on its tripod, along with some of Edis’ other cameras and equipment. Whenever I go to a photography exhibition, particularly early photography, the one thing I’m often left wondering is how the photos were taken, what the process would have been, and what equipment would the photographer have needed. So when I learnt that Cromer Museum’s collection included not only the original glass negatives and prints, but the cameras that they were taken with, I knew I wanted those to be included in our new displays. I hope that now visitors will be able to get a sense of how Edis worked, and how much technical skill was required compared to the relative ease and speed of the digital age. When you see the size of ‘The Countess’, and realise that she carried something very similar around Europe along with a trunk of 200 glass plate negatives, plus all her developing chemicals and changing bags,it really does bring to life just how difficult an undertaking it would have been. Special thanks here to designer Katie Jeffs and conservator David Harvey, who designed and installed this wonderful display of equipment.

We also have a fantastic new touchscreen interactive designed by David Coles at Superia Commerce, which features photographs, video and audio. Visitors can listen to an actress reading extracts from Edis’ war diary (thank you to Kate Banks as the voice of Olive!), and watch three fantastic short films produced entirely by Film & Media students at Paston 6th Form College. You can watch the first film here:

Our next priority as a project team will be our travelling exhibition, The Road to Ypres: The War Photography of Olive Edis, which will be opening at the end of this month at the North Norfolk District Council Offices in Cromer. After that, a larger version will move onto Farnham Museum. For a full list of venues take a look at my last post.

We also have plenty of events coming up here at the museum – visit our Facebook page or pick up an events leaflet for more details.

If you’re new to the blog, don’t forget that throughout March last year I shared extracts from Olive’s war diary, posting each one on the day that they were written 98 years ago. Find out what she was up to on 8th March 1919 here.

Last but not least – happy International Women’s Day! Here’s to pioneering women of the past, present and future.

Hope to see you at the museum soon.

Next Steps

bw-print-of-olive-edis-wearing-souwester-hat-by-mary-olive-edisHas it really been almost four months since we declared Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis open at Norwich Castle? The time seems to have flown by, and our major retrospective closed last weekend. We have been absolutely delighted with how people have responded to discovering Edis and her work for the first time. We’re waiting to hear our final visitor numbers, but by early January we had already seen almost 50,000 visitors through the door – putting Edis up there with some of the Castle’s most popular exhibitions! We are so pleased that she is finally getting the recognition she deserves, and we hope people have been as inspired by her enthusiasm and talent as we have. Here’s some of my favourite feedback from the exhibition:

“I have a new favourite photographer. Thank you!”

“Superb exhibition. What a creative and positive force of inspiration for all.”

“What an inspiring woman. Can we see more?”

Well, for the visitors who asked for more – you are in luck! We are in the process of transforming two galleries at Cromer Museum, creating a new permanent display of Edis’ work. The collection was previously displayed in a small room on the ground floor of the fisherman’s cottage, but by March 2017 this will have been completely refurbished and the collection will have expanded into the adjacent room, more than doubling the amount of space permanently dedicated to Edis. Our amazing design and technical team have designed exciting new displays which will include digital screens, lightboxes, photographs blown up to the size of the wall, original prints, and touchscreen technology to allow visitors to explore more of the collection. It’s a hive of activity here at the museum – new cases to house Edis’ cameras and equipment are being built as I type!

Here’s what the two rooms looked like before we started work:

And here’s what they look like at the moment!

We’ll keep you posted as work progresses. The new galleries will open to the public on 1st March 2017, the first day of our summer season, and we have a full events programme coming up in spring and summer starting with a series of Edis-themed talks in Cromer Museum’s education room:

  • Thursday 2nd March 2017, 11:30am – The Many Roles of Women in the First World War with Frank Meeres, author of several local history books and archivist at Norfolk Record Office
  • Wednesday 15th March, 11:30am – The Photography of Olive Edis with Alistair Murphy, Curator of Cromer Museum
  • Thursday 30th March, 11:30am – From Pixel to Stitch with textile artist Lisa Little, who  has created a series of embroidered portraits from Edis photographs (see some examples here)

More info on how to book will be available soon.

We’re also working on our travelling exhibition of Edis’ war photographs, The Road to Ypres: The War Photography of Olive Edis, which will travel to the following venues in 2017 and 2018:

  • North Norfolk District Council Offices exhibition space (March 29th – May 23rd 2017)
  • Farnham Museum, Surrey (6th June – 26th August 2017)
  • King’s Lynn Town Hall (2nd Sep – 3rd Dec 2017)
  • The Belfry Centre for the Arts, Overstrand (9th Dec 2017 – 7th Jan 2018)
  • Norwich Millennium Library and The Forum (January – February 2018 final dates tbc)
  • Sheringham Museum (6th June – 23rd September 2018)

Don’t forget that in the meantime you can still buy your copy of our book, Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis from the gift shop at Norwich Castle, and keep up to date with the project here and via our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis

After months of hard work from the exhibition team at Cromer Museum and Norwich Castle, Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis is now open at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery! We had a fantastic opening night and were delighted to welcome over 100 guests to the Castle on Friday 7th October, including Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, and three members of Olive Edis’ family – her great-nieces Angela and Heather, who we met over the summer, and Edis’ great-great nephew Rory. We enjoyed speeches from Robyn Llewellyn, Amanda Geitner, Director of the East Anglia Art Fund, and finally exhibition curator Alistair Murphy, who officially declared the exhibition open.

We really hope you can come and see the show for yourself, but in the meantime here are some of our favourite photos from the opening night. Many thanks to David Kirkham for these lovely pictures.

I’ve also been promising a few photos of the amazing merchandise that our retail team at Norwich Castle have been busy creating for the show, so here they are. Many thanks to the staff in the Castle gift shop who put together these lovely displays ready for the opening night:

But the project isn’t over yet – not even close! We still have lots to come, including the brand new permanent displays at Cromer Museum opening in March 2017, and the smaller travelling exhibition which will be touring from 2017 onwards. Look out for more updates over the next month. In the meantime, we hope to see you at the Castle soon!

Exhibition sneak peek!

Firstly, I have to apologise for the lack of posts over the last two months. We have been hard at work finishing our book about Olive Edis and putting the finishing touches to our big exhibition at Norwich Castle, which opens on Saturday 8th October. The book is currently being printed ready to go on sale in the Castle gift shop, and we’re busy taking delivery of all sorts of other goodies including tote bags, postcards, notebooks and badges.

Our brilliant display and exhibitions teams at the Castle are busy installing the show as I type, but we had a look around the gallery yesterday and it’s already looking fantastic. Here are a few ‘sneak peeks’ as the first works go up on the walls.

You might also have spotted some banners for the show going up around the Castle, including on the Castle mound and at the main entrance:

Find out more about coming to see the exhibition on the Norwich Castle website, or follow them on Twitter for regular updates.

More updates to come – we can’t wait to give you a first look at the book!

Lots of Letters

Earlier this week Curator Alistair Murphy and I made our second visit to IWM London as part of the project, this time to see some correspondence in their collection relating to Edis’ photographic tour of France and Belgium in 1919. The tour was commissioned and funded by the IWM’s Women’s Work Subcommittee, formed in 1917 to record the work of women in wartime, so many of the administrative records relating to Edis’ war photos are still held in the archive at IWM. They are all available to view by appointment, along with thousands of other documents in the archive, at the museum’s fantastic Research Room.

Between 1917 and 1920, the Subcommittee gathered a unique collection of art, documents, uniforms, badges, books, photographs and other memorabilia relating to women’s contribution to the First World War. In 1918, it was proposed that an official photographer be commissioned to photograph women working on the front lines in Europe, and in autumn that year Miss Agnes Conway and Lady Priscilla Norman, Secretary and Chair of the Women’s War Work Subcommittee respectively, set about organising the tour. They would both eventually accompany Edis to Europe in March 1919. (If you have read any of my posts from March this year you will already be familiar with the indefatigable Lady Norman and Miss Conway from Olive’s diary.)

The letters we saw at IWM range in date from October 1918 to April 1920, and cover the initial proposal of the idea right through to the nitty gritty of final payments. They are a fascinating record of the difficulties the three women faced in getting the permissions and permits required to send a photographer into an active war zone, and the preparations Edis had to make before embarking on the tour.

The first letter to Edis from the Women’s War Work Subcommittee is dated 19th October 1918, but presumably the idea had been suggested to her at an earlier date. Olive replied almost by return post –

“Your letter asking me to go our to France with Lady Norman and yourself to photograph the British Women’s Services arrived this morning. The idea attracts me so much. It would be a most interesting trip… I would be very pleased to give my services [unpaid] as it is for a national collection, not as an operator pure and simple.” (Olive Edis to Agnes Conway, 20th Oct 1918)

It was agreed that IWM would pay Edis’ expenses – hospitality and photographic – but that there would be no salary attached. Olive, ever the businesswoman, managed to negotiate not just the cost of photographic plates and developing materials, but also a flash light (costing “about a sovereign”) and insurance for her three cameras.

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Postcard of self-portrait with camera, 1918-19

These pre-tour letters also clear up a bit of a mystery for me. In one of the photographs we have of Olive dating from around 1918 she is wearing a cap with a badge reading “NWM”. Alistair had told me that this stood for “National War Museum” (the original name for IWM), but I wondered why she would be wearing it for the tour, as that name was changed in 1917. It appears that Olive was keen to have something to signify her status as an official war photographer, and requested a badge –

“I do not suppose that as the trip is so short there would be any question of a uniform allowance, but…I would like the right to wear at any rate a badge. If I am to photograph the British Women’s Forces in France there would surely be no difficulty about this.” (Olive Edis to Agnes Conway, 20th Oct 1918)

Miss Conway responds – “you could wear the initials ‘N.W.M’ – National War Museum – on your coat if you like…there is no other badge in existence” (21st Oct 1918).  I’m now wondering if Edis took the photograph above especially for her passport, as she asks “can I please have the badge IWM, as I should be photographed for my passport” (24th Oct 1918). Miss Conway replies, “it belongs to the old days when we were the National War Museum, but no other has been made” (26th Oct 1918).

After this first flurry of activity though, things ground to a halt. Although the units they planned to photograph were very supportive of the idea, there were a number of obstacles in their path which led to the tour being deferred from early November 1918 to March 1919. These ranged from the question of getting a car to take them around – “I am afraid there may be a difficulty about getting a car from GHQ. They are very sticky about cars” (2nd Nov 1918, General Donald to Agnes Conway) – to a clash with the General Election, and Lady Norman catching influenza, despite her best efforts to defeat it through sheer willpower (in a hand-written letter to Miss Conway just before becoming very ill she directs a series of letters from her bed, and signs off with: “I am cossetting myself up today with a day in bed, but I have nothing the matter with me.”) Then of course the military situation changed completely with the Armistice of 11th November which ended the fighting on the Western Front, and the question of the tour was put off until early 1919. Lady Norman eventually wrote to Edis in February with the news she had been waiting for –

“Miss Conway and I have at last I believe obtained the necessary permission to go to France and take you with us. You will think we have been very long in doing so, but I assure you these things are not very easy to arrange… The tour should be an interesting one, if somewhat arduous, but I think you would enjoy it.” (Lady Norman to Olive Edis, 19th Feb 1919)

As we know, the group finally set off  less than two weeks later, on 2nd March.

The post-tour letters are equally fascinating, and I will come back to those another day. For now if you want to relive the tour itself, you can go back to my posts from March this year.

 

Getting down to business

This has been a big week for the Olive Edis project team as we’ve been making some important decisions about the content of our planned displays and exhibitions, as well as firming up plans for the the book we are producing about Edis.

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Apologies to Cromer Library users – their copy of Face to Face is currently sitting in my office!

One of the most exciting elements of this project for me is the potential to bring Edis’ work to a much wider audience, and make people more aware of the huge contribution she made to the history of photography. One of the ways we hope to achieve this is through a book about her life and work, which will be the first published book solely about her and her career. The only other book which focuses on Edis is Face to Face: The Remarkable Story of Photographers Olive Edis & Cyril Nunn (2005), which is, as the title suggests, a joint study of Edis and her friend, protegé and collaborator, Cyril Nunn. It was Cyril who was the keeper of Edis’ legacy until we acquired the collection from him in 2008 with the help of The Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art FundFace to Face is now out of print, although Norfolk Library & Information Service have several copies available to borrow.

On Wednesday, Curator Alistair Murphy and I met with our publisher to have a chat about our plans for the book, and I have to say that now I’m even more excited! We plan to create a book that will not only act as a biography of Edis and a guide to the works in our new displays and exhibitions, but also as a “coffee-table” book with gorgeous high-quality reproductions of her work, which can be enjoyed for the images alone. Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis will be available for sale at Norwich Castle from October 2016, when our major exhibition opens, and at Cromer Museum from March 2017, to coincide with the opening of our new permanent Edis gallery. We hope that the book will also travel with the touring exhibition we are producing, and will be available to buy at host venues.

We’ve also been discussing merchandise with our retail manager here at Norfolk Museums Service, and are planning a range of lovely items including postcards, tote bags, notebooks and more. I can’t wait to see it all! I’ll be sharing our progess here, of course.

The other major job we’ve been working on this week is the mammoth task of selecting images for the book and objects for the exhibitions from our collection of over 2000 items.20160513_093146 01 There are so many wonderful photos in the collection, it was almost painful to have to filter out so many, but we managed to narrow it down to a long-list of around 300. To help us to visualise our selection, we made a lovely mess in our Education Room by spreading out printed copies of each photo. After two days of deliberating (and occasionally debating), we have created our first draft “A” list of around 175. Next week we’ll come back to them and start to think in more detail about the story we want to tell.

As I was snapping a few quick pictures on my phone, I noticed these three photos happened to have been sorted into piles next to each other. It struck me that these three portraits are almost a perfect representation of Edis’ work – world-famous author Thomas Hardy, local fisherman “Lotion Tar” Bishop, and Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement, all photographed with the same respect and dignity, while maintaining their individual character.

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Thomas Hardy & Lotion Tar Bishop © Cromer Museum, Emmeline Pankhurst © National Portrait Gallery, London

That’s all for this week. As always, your thoughts are welcome! Use the comment function here on the blog or get in touch directly.

 

Getting to know you

So far this blog has concentrated largely on Edis’ war work as we journeyed with her through Europe in March 1919, and we’ve seen her use all her skill and determination to become Britain’s, and possibly even the world’s, first female war photographer.

In today’s entry, I’d like to focus on another field of photography in which Edis was something of a pioneer – self-portraiture.

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Robert Cornelius, daguerreotype self-portrait, 1839 (Library of Congress)

In 2016, we’re all familiar with the “selfie” – over the last ten years the word has stormed into our collective consciousness, making its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, but the photographic self-portrait is of course nothing new. Self-portraits have a long history as a form of expression for artists, so it’s no surprise that the first photographers almost immediately turned their lenses on themselves. This daguerreotype “selfie” by American photographer Robert Cornelius, taken within months of the birth of photography in 1839, is generally considered be the first photographic self-portrait.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, photo self-portraits were reasonably common, especially amongst commercial photographers who would pose with the tools of their trade to create handy publicity shots like this one. The vast majority of these are, as you would expect of the time, men.

Self-portraits of women from this period tend to be taken by amateurs – usually wealthy women who had the funds to take up photography as a hobby. As such, they tend to be much less formal in their execution. Interestingly, while a Google search for “first selfie” quickly points you straight to the Cornelius photo, I couldn’t find any information online about the first photo self-portrait by a woman. This is the earliest I could find, probably dating from the 1890s, and the woman is not identified. I’d be very interested to know if anyone has pinpointed the earliest one, and especially whether the photographer’s name is known.

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Self-portrait of an unidentified woman, 1890s

Olive Edis was a prolific selfie-taker from the moment she picked up a camera. We have over 50 self-portraits in our collection alone, and there are others in private and museum collections around the world. She photographed herself in both colour (autochrome) and black and white throughout her life, using the same techniques as she did in her portraits of other people. As I have mentioned before, one of Edis’ great strengths was her ability to capture natural, relaxed portraits while maintaining the formality of composition and lighting that you would expect from a professional studio portrait. One sitter described it perfectly in a letter to Edis in 1940 – “it is always rather a shock to see one’s own face in a photo but I do feel that your photos have a great reality in them and are not like the touched-up ones which all look the same.”

The same can certainly be said of her self-portraits. She manages to capture something of her own character on the glass, which I think is what makes these photographs so fascinating. They have all the technical quality of a “typical” studio portrait, but with all the charm of the unselfconscious mirror selfies above. Most of them seem to have been taken for fun, rather than for professional use. There are a handful which show Edis in her studio, which may well have been intended to advertise the space, but the majority are purely well-lit, well-composed pictures of Edis, sometimes head and shoulders, but often full-length.

To my mind, there are elements of Edis’ self-portraits that link them directly to the modern selfie. When you take a selfie, you’re creating a version of yourself that you want to share with the world. You might wear your favourite outfit, do your hair nicely, pose to show off your best angle. This can very easily look unrealistic or contrived, but somehow Olive manages to pull it off and make it look natural. Take this one for example – Edis has chosen to wear this dress with an elaborate lace collar. This wasn’t an accident, and nor was the lighting and background choice which shows off that lace to its best advantage. She’s using the light from the window to highlight her hair and the line of her face. It’s very carefully composed and yet it looks relaxed – almost as if you’ve just caught her as she turned to look away from the window.

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Olive Edis, self-portrait c.1907 (#outfitoftheday?)

She and her sisters also play with costumes and personas in her self-portraits. This glass plate negative dated 1906 shows a young Olive, Millie and Katharine dressed in romantic costumes and posed as “the three graces” – the three daughters of Zeus from classical mythology representing beauty, charm and joy.

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The Three Graces, 1906

However, one thing that Olive’s portraits definitely don’t share with the selfie is ease of production. While you or I can snap a selfie and view the results almost instantly, Edis was taking hers on large glass plates using a bulky full plate camera which, due to its size and weight, had to stand firmly on a tripod. Edis couldn’t adopt the classic selfie stance with camera at arm’s length slightly above the face – she had to carefully set up the shot before posing herself within it, and then triggering the exposure using a remote shutter release, probably similar to this one from the 1890s.

For full-length photos, Edis used to hide the shutter release mechanism in the scenery – in these two gorgeous autochromes she has masked it with foliage and furs:

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Self-portrait, c.1910 (Cromer Museum)

NPG x45535; Olive Edis by (Mary) Olive Edis (Mrs Galsworthy), or  Katharine Legat (nÈe Edis)

Self-portrait, 1900s © National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x45535)

A key element of the selfie is the immediacy of it – you can create this version of yourself and share it with the rest of the world via the internet. This is obviously not the case with Edis’ portraits, which would need to be developed and printed before she could share them. But again, the impulse to share your photo is nothing new. The 19th century saw a craze for cartes-de-visite, photographic portraits printed the size of a calling card and designed to be shared. Compiling albums of cartes from friends and family as well as celebrities and royalty became a popular hobby among middle class women. Into the 20th century, turning your studio portraits into postcards was fashionable, so you could post your photo directly to your friends. In Edis’ case, she turned some of her self-portraits into postcards and greetings cards and sent them to friends with a personal message, as well as selling them in her studio along with postcards of her portraits of her most famous subjects.

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Postcard of self-portrait with camera, 1918-19

One of the things I really love about these self-portraits is that I feel like I know Edis a little better with each one I see, and her personality really shines through. These portraits represent her own vision of herself, and it’s amazing that even now, more than 60 years after her death, she is still showing us who she was through her photos. Perhaps we should all be taking more selfies?

And in that spirit – as part of our new galleries here at Cromer Museum, and for the exhibition at Norwich Castle, we plan to install an Olive Edis Selfie Booth which will allow visitors to take their own selfies in the style of Ms Edis herself. Visitors will be able to study Olive’s portraits, learn how to frame their shot and use natural light, and share the results online. I’m very much looking forward to the testing phase…

For now though, here’s a gallery of some of my favourites of Olive’s from throughout her life. Enjoy.