International Women’s Day 2024

One Inspirational Woman:

International Women’s Day 2024

Olive Edis. Image courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service.

This is one date in the calendar that I always look forward to.

This year for International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating the life and work of Olive Edis, the Norfolk based photographer who was one of the most celebrated photographers of her time, at a time when a woman’s place was most definitely considered to be in the home.

Fisherman’s Wife by Olive Edis

Olive joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1913 and was made an Hon. FRPS the following year. In 1919, she was the first accredited female war photographer, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to document the role of women in the aftermath of the I World War in France and Belgium. Towards the end of her life, she exhibited some of her portraits of Norfolk fishermen at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Olive was a society photographer who was commissioned by the rich and famous of her time: PM David Lloyd George, the Duke of Windsor (Edward VII)` and King George VI, Thomas Hardy and leading Suffragette Elizabeth Garrett to name just a few. She was at the cutting edge of her profession and one of the first British photographers to add colour to her images using the Lumiere autochrome process.

But it was her portraits of the Norfolk fishermen that really caught my eye. Using the natural light from her glass roofed studio on Church Street, Sheringham, Olive created portraits which reached into the soul of her sitters. Looking at her photographs today, you could be in conversation with them, transcending space and time.

John “Tar” Bishop. Photographed by Olive Edis. Image courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service

Just as Olive captured the twinkle of an eye, she also recorded every single stitch in their lovingly knitted Gansey jumpers so that I was able to piece together the stitches and techniques used to knit these works of art which have since been lost in time.

“The face is an index of the character, and the photograph, if you like to put it that way, should be the X-ray of the soul. One is not truly a photographer unless one’s work shows what is inside the sitter, as well as what is outside.”

Olive Edis, interview with The New York Evening World, 1st November 1920.

George Blogg, and Gilbert Leather Rook c.1905 by Olive Edis courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service. Hannah of Graham St. Fashion wears the Harrison and Craske Gansey jumpers today.

Afterall, stories are not always told through words but sometimes in paintings, photographs and objects and this is why I find the work of Olive Edis so mesmerizing.

Walter “Catty” Allen by Olive Edis


The full collection of Olive’s works are held by Norfolk Museums Service, with a smaller, permanent exhibition on display at Cromer Museum, Norfolk.

If you’d like to read more, the exhibition catalogue “Fishermen & Kings; the photography of Olive Edis” is available to buy on-line.