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Edwin Smith – Cooperating with the Inevitable

Introduction
Edwin Smith and Olive Cook on their wedding day, 1954

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.

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Unwrapping the Enigma

Edwin Smith, probable self-portrait.

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.

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Edwin Smith – Ways of Working

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.

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Edwin Smith & Social Documentary Photography

Gateshead 1936; Photograph by Edwin Smith ©RIBA

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”

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On photographing cathedrals and parish churches

The cover of ‘English Cathedrals’.
Olive’s dedication to me on the inside cover.

In 1990, Olive Cook gave me a signed and dedicated copy of ‘English Cathedrals‘, which had just been published. In the Foreword she says that the book was needed because relatively few of Edwin’s photographs of cathedrals had ever been published, yet it was a subject to which he was considerably drawn.

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Edwin Smith – The Last Exposures

These photographs were on the roll of film that still lay, undeveloped, in Edwin’s Ensign Autorange camera when Olive let me have it in 1993. It had been in the camera since 1971 when Edwin died, unbeknownst to Olive.
I processed the 22 year-old roll with great care and was astonished to find it contained usable images. Continue reading “Edwin Smith – The Last Exposures”

Book Review: Evocations of Place

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.

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