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.
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.
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.