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Work of Britain's first female war photographer Olive Edis to go on show

PUBLISHED: 10:26 12 August 2015 | UPDATED: 11:58 12 August 2015

Olive Edis photographed by Cyril Nunn in the 1950s.

Olive Edis photographed by Cyril Nunn in the 1950s.

She photographed all members of society from north Norfolk fishermen and writers to revolutionary Suffragettes, Prime Ministers and royalty.

A picture of First World War Prime Minister David Lloyd George taken by Olive Edis. Picture: OLIVE EDISA picture of First World War Prime Minister David Lloyd George taken by Olive Edis. Picture: OLIVE EDIS

But despite having the accolade of becoming Britain’s first official female First World War photographer in 1919, Olive Edis from Sheringham remains a relatively unknown historical figure.

The Norfolk Museums Service hopes to boost the profile of the internationally-significant portrait photographer through an 18-month project financed by £81,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Ms Edis, who died in 1955 aged 79, had two studios in Sheringham, both in Church Street, and shared her time between the seaside resort and London between 1905 until her death.

She is buried in the town in the cemetery off Weybourne Road and the biggest collection of her work – 2,000 images – is at Cromer Museum, part of Norfolk Museums Service.

Alistair Murphy, Cromer Museum curator, said: “She took pictures of the rich and the ordinary. She had a great ability to bring out the humanity in people. She had a skill to communicate equally with Sheringham fishermen and King George VI, whom she managed to get a smile from, which is a rare talent.”

He added: “She moved in circles where there were strong women who wanted to change the world. She wasn’t the type of woman who let anyone stop her doing what she wanted to do.”

Mr Murphy said Ms Edis was a professional photographer of “international importance”.

Her talent was recognised by the Imperial War Museum, formerly the National War Museum, which commissioned her to take pictures of the First World War in Belgium and France in 1919.

Other subjects she photographed included Cromer lifeboatman Henry Blogg, 15-year-old Prince Philip, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, novelist Thomas Hardy and Sheringham fisherman Billy West.

Her work is also displayed in the Imperial War Museum, National Portrait Gallery, National Media Museum in Bradford and the Henry Ransom Humanities Research Centre in Austin, Texas.

“Norfolk should be proud of her,” Mr Murphy said. “There are people who are already fascinated by Ms Edis but we need to get to people who have not heard of her and get them as excited about her as we are.”

The HLF project starts in October and will include a touring exhibition across Norfolk, portrait photography sessions, drama workshops and the setting up of a permanent online archive of Ms Edis’ pictures.

Do you have a heritage story? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk



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