Edwin Smith Revisited

In this comparison between an Edwin Smith photograph of the Pool House, Willersey, Gloucestershire, made in 1967, and my view in 2013, the most obvious difference lies in the season in which each were taken. Smith’s is in spring, most likely, as the weeping ash tree on the right is just bursting into leaf and the water iris have yet to grow. Mine was taken in August. Other than that and the scaffolding surrounding the house, little has changed at the Pool House. The front door is no longer half-glazed, the ubiquitous UHF aerial is mounted on the central chimney and the yew to the left of the house has been left to grow large and unkempt. Thank goodness there isn’t a Sky dish mounted on the front… I processed my image to approach the tonality in the original Smith photograph as it appears in ‘A View of the Cotswolds’. His image has a heavy dark vignette and the house itself is lightened to stand out (perhaps a little too much in my opinion…). It is interesting to compare this published version of Smith’s with the copy displayed on the RIBApix catalogue (The Royal Institute of British Architects holds the archive and copyright of all Smith’s photographs). In the version they reproduce, presumably from a scan of the negative, the picture is not manipulated, just a grey house by a pond on an overcast day. Smith was not averse to considerable print manipulation. As the author of the classic ‘All The Photo Tricks’ in 1940, he was well placed to do so.
Widely regarded as one of Edwin Smith’s finest church interior photographs, his view of St Lawrence, Didmarton, Gloucestershire has always held a special fascination for me. Whilst acting as printer for Smith’s widow, the late Olive Cook, I printed this from his original negative in the 1990s. It was one of the trickier images I had to deal with due to the wide tonal range, but the resultant print improved on Smith’s original, mainly through the use of the now long-gone Agfa Record Rapid paper. I liked it so much that I have a framed copy on the wall at home, of which the image on the left is a digital copy. Recently I had the chance to visit Didmarton and – working from memory – produced a photograph of the same scene, 52 years on. There have been changes, inevitably, The candle holders have gone but their sconces remain; the area beneath the stairs has been made into cupboards; floor and walls have been restored. But the chair to the right of Smith’s photo sits under the window in mine and the little cross that forms the focal point of his image now lies to the right of the trefoil window. The accumulation of boot-scuffs on the stair risers seems to have changed little…
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