Although this section started life purely as an exploration of Edwin Smith’s photography, over time it seemed appropriate to start including information on his wife Olive as well, as their lives were so inextricably linked. She now has her own section.
Contained within the site is much biographical information on both, many essays and transcriptions, together with examples of Edwin’s photographs, books, drawings, paintings and linocuts alongside biographical material on Olive, her artwork and her writings.
Despite his claim that he was a photographer only ‘by necessity’, Edwin Smith was one of the most important British photographers of the 20th century. His simple yet distinctive style showed both his unerring visual perception of form and his love of architecture from the vernacular to the grand. The importance of his work derives both from its quality and its breadth. Yet, despite the limited recognition he received during his lifetime and the more prominent promotion of his work by his widow, Olive Cook, following his death, he remains something of an enigma.
On other pages, Unwrapping the Enigma, I describe how in 1989 we set out to explore the work of Edwin Smith and in doing so talked to his widow, Olive Cook, and some friends, a few of whom worked with him. That article uses the interviews to try to gain some insights into the character of Edwin. This article uses the same sources and research in the Olive Cook Papers (Newnham College) to explore something of his way of working as a photographer.
Edwin Smith is one of the great British architectural photographers of the 20th century. Between the publication of English Parish Churches in 1952 and Rome: from its Foundation to the Present in 1971 he established a deceptively simple yet distinctive style of photography that celebrated the architecture of Britain and mainland Europe. Continue reading “Edwin Smith & Social Documentary Photography”
Edwin Smith always said of himself, ‘I am an architect by training, a painter by profession and a photographer of necessity.’ However, it is as a photographer that he is known professionally and artistically, while his painting and drawing is almost entirely neglected. Working from the interviews conducted in 1989 and research in the Olive Cook Papers (Newnham College), this page hopes to shed a little light on Edwin the painter and drawer to complement our understanding of him as a photographer. – Brian Human
In the days when I was printing Edwin Smith’s negatives for Olive Cook, his widow, she would sometimes give me copies of his original prints as gifts. This was always a great honour, as she was extremely protective of the work he left behind, particularly any prints he had made himself.
This is one example, which I received sometime in the early 1990’s. Although given to me framed, I never hung it as the makeshift mount was one made for a landscape print and this was portrait format, so it didn’t look right at all. The frame was also old and battered, so recently I took it apart to cut a new mount and re-frame.
In 1940 the Focal Press published Edwin Smith’s ‘All the Photo Tricks‘; this is doubly curious. It is rather at odds with Smith’s photographic mantra of ‘cooperating with the inevitable’ and a somewhat tricky undertaking when the evidence suggests that, as a conscientious objector, he spent much of the War years playing hide and seek with the authorities. This is just one of the curiosities of Smith’s life.
The listing below is revised as and when I discover yet another book that Edwin Smith or Olive Cook produced or contributed to. However, this list is nearing completion; all the main titles are captured here and many of them I have in my collection.