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


  • 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.

  • Winner 2022 Adelaide Festival Awards

    Helen’s Olive Cotton biography has won the Non-Fiction Award in the 2022 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature.

  • Shortlisted in Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature

    Helen’s biography of Olive Cotton has been shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Award in the 2022 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. Winners will be announced next March as part of the Adelaide Festival.

  • Awarded the J Dudley Johnston Medal

    The Royal Photographic Society, London, has awarded Helen the
    J Dudley Johnston Medal for ‘major achievement in the field of photographic criticism or the history of photography’. A video of the award ceremony is available here.

  • Max Dupain’s dilemmas

    Australian Book Review has published Helen’s article on Max Dupain in the November 2021 issue and a podcast which is available here.