Despite its apparent simplicity, Cotton’s Shasta daisies is a complex picture. Like many of Cotton’s great works, it produces a rhythmic composition through the repetition of a simple form – here, the (yellow) floral discs and white petals of the common Shasta daisy. The picture’s complexity rests in the way that it carefully manages a range of competing pictorial influences. It borrows its subject and some of its tonality from pictorialist still life. Its tightly framed view of the rhythmic pattern created by a relatively mundane subject reflects the influence of Modernist photography, while the strangeness that emerges from the way the flowers fill the frame recalls Surrealism. The picture struck a chord with contemporary viewers: it was exhibited at the 1937 London Salon of Photography and selected for reproduction in the prestigious publication Photograms of the Year 1938. In spite of its success, Dupain disliked the picture and suggested to Cotton that she was ‘wasting’ her time.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra