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.
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 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
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”
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”
In 1992, an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Edwin Smith was held at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden. Ever since his death, Olive Cook had tried to promote more interest in Edwin’s non-photographic output – which was prolific but largely unrecognised during his lifetime.
In 1997, Olive exhibited his non-photographic work at the Sally Hunter Fine Art gallery in London, now closed. There have been no other major exhibitions of his work that we know of, but The Fry Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by both Edwin Smith and Olive Cook, as does The Chelmsford Museum.
Edwin Smith used to say that he was “the only artist with a complete collection of his own work”.
The following article by Nigel Weaver appeared in the Winter 2004 edition of Matrix (No. 24) and is reproduced by permission of the Editor. It was also published in the Fry Art Gallery July 2005 Newsletter. Matrix is a review for printers and bibliophiles, published in an edition of 800 periodically by the Whittington Press. The examples of cuts by Edwin Smith shown above are from The Fry Art Gallery collection and the editor’s personal collection.
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.