British photographic history

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Digitisation: Olive Edis Collection secures £81,000 HLF grant

Olive Edis photographed people from all walks of life, was the first to capture Canada in colour and gave an incredible insight into the First World War. Now a new project made possible by National Lottery players is turning the focus on her story.
Norfolk Museums Services has secured an £81,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to create a digital archive by October that will bring together the work and journals of Edis, who visited the western front at the end of the first world war, and photographed women and their roles during the conflict in Europe and on the home front. Her work is held in collections across the UK including the National Media Musuem and as far afield as Texas. Cromer Museum in Norfolk holds the largest Olive Edis collection in the world.

The funding will create a digital archive of images and journals of Olive Edis, who went to the Western Front at the end of the First World War and photographed women and their role in the conflict in Europe and on the Home Front. It will also bring together other images taken by Edis, famous for her portraits of everyone from royalty, prime ministers and high society, including a young Prince Philip and the poet and author Thomas Hardy, to fishermen in her native Norfolk.

The project will also transform the world's largest collection of her work in Cromer, Norfolk, allowing visitors to use smartphone and touch-screen technology to explore the collection at Cromer Museum and take photos using the techniques she utilised.

Born in 1876, Edis was a photographic pioneer who was an early user of the Lumiere brothers' autochrome technique, which produced colour photography using grains of dyed potato starch, taking some of the first colour photographs of Canada.

Famous figures who were photographed by Edis include Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George, Prince Albert, who became George VI, socialite Nancy Astor, the first director general of the BBC John Reith and social reformer Henrietta Barnett.

Her skills were recognised by the Imperial War Museum, which commissioned her to photograph people and the effect of the First World War, particularly focusing on women in the armed services.

The photographs taken by Edis, who was also involved in the suffragette movement, document the changing role of women during the First World War.

Robyn Llewellyn, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: "Olive Edis' work spans social, gender and geographical boundaries to provide an incredible glimpse into the personal world of her subjects, particularly those who were affected by the First World War.

"Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we are thrilled to support this project which will finally provide her inspirational story with the recognition it deserves."

The funding will bring together a digital archive of work displayed at Cromer Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Media Museum and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre in Austin, Texas.

Norfolk Museums Service, whose website will host the archive, will also use the funding to raise awareness of her life and work, with a touring exhibition in Norfolk and workshops and talks to bring her story to life.

Hilary Cox, Norfolk county councillor for Cromer, said the funding would help highlight the "courage, expertise and excellence" of a woman who should be a household name.

Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: "As the first woman to work as an official war photographer, it's fantastic that Heritage Lottery Fund funding will be used to tell the extraordinary story of Olive Edis."

Read more here and here.

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