photographer, was born on 11 July 1911 in Hornsby, Sydney. At the age of eleven she was given a Kodak Box Brownie camera and taught the basics in photography by her father, Leo Cotton, Professor of Geology at Sydney University. Her mother Florence, née Channon, was interested in the arts and music. Olive attended the Methodist Ladies College, Burwood, in 1921-29, and Sydney University in 1930-34, graduating BA. She joined the Photographic Society of NSW and the Sydney Camera Club in 1929. In mid-1934 she began to work with her childhood friend, Max Dupain , in his newly opened studio at 24 Bond Street, Sydney. Her photographs were included in the London Salon of Photography in 1935 ( Teacup Ballet ) and 1937 ( Shasta Daisies and Winter Willows ). She was a member of the short-lived Contemporary Camera Group in 1938.
In 1939 Olive Cotton married Max Dupain; they separated two years later and divorced in 1944. Cotton taught mathematics at Frensham School, Mittagong (NSW), in 1941. From 1942-45 she managed the Max Dupain studio while Dupain was on war service. Her photographs of the Sturt Craft Workshops at Frensham were published in the book, Sturt (Wahroonga NSW, 1946), and her photographs of flower arrangements were included in Flower Pieces (Sydney 1946) by Helen Blaxland (mother of Antonia Blaxland ).
Cotton moved to Koorawatha near Cowra in 1946 with her second husband, Ross McInerney, whom she had married in 1944; daughter Sally was born in 1946 and son Peter two years later. Cotton taught mathematics at Cowra High School from 1959-63. In 1964 she opened a photographic studio in Cowra specialising in portraiture, especially of children, and wedding photography.
In the 1980s Cotton’s photographs once again began to receive serious attention. They were included in Gael Newton’s exhibition, 'Silver and Grey’ (Art Gallery of New South Wales), in 1980 and in the 1981-82 touring exhibition 'Australian Women Photographers 1890-1950’, organised by Barbara Hall and Jenni Mather. In 1983 Cotton was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to print photographs for the retrospective exhibition, 'Olive Cotton Photographs 1924-1984’, which opened at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1985 and subsequently toured. Light Years , a film by Kathryn Millard on Olive Cotton’s life and work, was released in 1991. In the same year Teacup Ballet was issued on a stamp to mark the 150th anniversary of photography in Australia. Olive Cotton was awarded an Emeritus Fellowship from the Australia Council in 1993.