Photo: George Serras, NMA

Helen Ennis is one of Australia’s leading photography curators, historians and writers. She was formerly Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia (1985-1992). She joined the Australian National University School of Art & Design in 1995 and was Director of the Centre for Art History and Art Theory and the Sir William Dobell Chair of Art History from 2014-18. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a certified valuer for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

Helen specializes in Australian photographic history, especially of the modern period, biography, death studies, curatorship and museology. Since 2000 she has curated 8 major exhibitions for the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia and other cultural institutions. She has recently completed a biography of modernist photographer Olive Cotton, supported by funding from the Australia Council Literature Board. She was awarded a Peter Blazey Fellowship in 2012 and the ABR George Hicks Foundation Fellowship in 2013, which also assisted with the writing.

Available soon

Olive Cotton

Olive Cotton

Helen Ennis, 2019

A landmark biography of a singular and important Australian photographer, Olive Cotton, by an award-winning writer – beautifully written and deeply moving. To be released in late October 2019.

Read more about Helen's Olive Cotton book →

Publication Highlights

Margaret Michaelis: love, loss and photography
Reveries: Photography & Mortality
Photography and Australia


  • Olive Cotton biography due in October

    Helen’s biography of Olive Cotton will be published by Fourth Estate (Harper Collins) in late October 2019. More information available here. Previous essays Helen has written on Olive and her work can be found at Meanjin and Australian Book Review.

  • Hillend residency

    Helen Ennis has been awarded a residency at Hill End in September 2019 to write about Charles Bayliss who famously spent time there in the 1870s. Because of the lack of primary documents relating to his life and work she will be exploring alternative approaches to writing his biography by responding to place, weather and chance encounters.

  • Ian North essay

    Ian North’s wide-ranging contribution to art and curatorship has been acknowledged in a beautifully produced book edited by Maria Zagala. Helen has contributed an essay on Ian’s influential period as inaugural Curator of Photography at the National Gallery.

  • Expanding the archive

    Helen gave a paper ‘Expanding the archive: a biographer’s perspective’ at the ARLIS/ANZ Conference ‘Expanding our reach: art, research and access’ at the National Gallery of Australian on 5 October 2018.

  • Olive Cotton Drill Hall Lecture

    Helen is giving a talk on _Olive Cotton: A Life in Photography_to Friends of the Drill Hall Gallery on Sunday 5 August 2018 at 3pm. Information available here.

  • Helen Ennis retires from ANU SoAD

    On 30 June 2018 Helen retired from her position as Director of the Centre for Art History and Art Theory at ANU and would like to express her thanks to the wonderful colleagues she has worked with over the years, especially those in CAHAT. Helen will now be focusing on her writing and research.

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