Photograph by Denise Ferris

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 (1985-92). She joined theAustralian 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, and biography. Since 2000 she has curated eight major exhibitions for the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia and other cultural institutions. Her biography of modernist photographer Olive Cotton was awarded the Magarey Medal for Biography and the Queensland Literary Awards Non-fiction prize in 2020. She is currently researching the life and work of Max Dupain.

Available now

Olive Cotton: A life in photography

Olive Cotton: A life in photography

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.

Available now in bookstores.

Read more about Helen's Olive Cotton: A life in photography book →

Publication Highlights

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


  • A biography of Max Dupain

    Helen is thrilled to be working with Fourth Estate again and her biography of Max Dupain is scheduled for publication in October 2024.

  • Martin Kantor Portrait Prize

    Helen is one of the judges of the 2023 Ballarat International Foto Biennale Martin Kantor Portrait Prize. Applications close on 9 June.

  • Olive Cotton released in paperback

    Olive Cotton: A life in photography has been issued in paperback and is a revised edition.

  • Women in art and design

    The NGV has published Observations: Women in Art and Design History which features transcripts of the online seminar which Helen was delighted to contribute to in 2022.

  • Helen Ennis in conversation with Kathryn Millard

    Helen will discuss the life and work of Olive Cotton with writer and award-winning filmmaker, Kathryn Millard, at the Rose Scott Women Writers’ Festival. In-person and online.

  • In conversation at the NPG

    Postponed. Join Helen at the National Portrait Gallery to hear about photographers challenging the conventions of personal and public space in their portraits. In-person and online.