Olive COTTON, Aircraft mechanics Enlarge 1 /1

Olive COTTON

Australia 1911 – 2003

Aircraft mechanics 1945 Creation Notes: The only known vintage print
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph

Dimensions: printed image 41.8 h x 35.8 w cm mount 50.6 h x 40.2 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.2896

This is the only vintage print of one of Cotton’s favourite images, a study of workers at de Havilland’s aircraft factory at Bankstown, Sydney. The photograph was taken for the book Wings of tomorrow by Clive Turnbull, published in 1945 to celebrate the history of Australian National Airways. Cotton liked the way the arrangement of the image mirrored the endeavours of the mechanics: ‘I liked the circular composition – as if the men, concentrating on their work, were swept up in the workings of the complicated machinery.’ While it was part of a commission, this picture of labour belongs to a great tradition of social documentary photography with which Cotton was familiar; the picture is also possibly a nod back to Cotton’s grandfather, a committed socialist.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra