In 1965, whilst photographing in Ireland for the book of the same name published in 1966, Edwin Smith visited the formal gardens at Powerscourt in County Wicklow.
One of the photographs he took there has always held a certain fascination for me and a trip to Ireland gave me the opportunity to visit the gardens and see this impressive place myself. Armed with a copy of this published version of his image on my iPad as a guide, I set out to try and photograph the view as it is today.
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”
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.
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.
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
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.
This list of exhibitions at which work by Edwin Smith was shown is by no means complete, and doubtless contains some inaccuracies. Even Olive Cook, with her remarkable memory, was not able to provide a complete list.
The compilation has been drawn from many sources; much is from my own collection of catalogues, press releases, private view cards, notes, etc. The dates in bold represent solo exhibitions; the others were group shows that included Edwin’s work. Recent research carried out by myself and Brian Human of the Olive Cook papers held at Newnham College library, Cambridge, has shed some new light on dates and locations of exhibitions.
This descriptive text was written by Olive Cook after Edwin’s death, to accompany a major exhibition of his photographs at Impressions Gallery, York, in 1983. It neatly summarises Edwin’s life and illustrates Olive’s tireless promotion of her late husband’s work, which she maintained for thirty years after his death. The text appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition, illustrated below.