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Edwin Smith

The Photographs of Edwin Smith

These are some of Edwin Smith's photographs from my own collection. They are a few from the many that I printed for Olive Cook during the 1980s and 1990s.

In my first solo exhibition of my own work, I used a quotation from Edwin in the requested 'artist's statement':

"The man who lives through his eyes is continually confronted with scenes and spectacles that compel his attention or admiration and demand an adequate reaction. To pass on without pause is impossible and to continue after purely mental applause is unsatisfying; some real tribute must be paid.
Photography, to many of its addicts, is a convenient and simple means of discharging these ever-recurring debts to the visual world."

From the first time I encountered Edwin's work I was enthralled by his approach to his subjects. Undoubtedly, there is something of the romantic vision of an idyllic rural England embodied in many of them which is always attractive, but his approach to this was not condescending or patronising and certainly not 'pictorial'. He would treat every subject the same whether it was a King's bedroom or a farm-worker's kitchen. His photographs are akin to those of Eugene Atget (the only photographer whose influence he admitted to) and are perhaps even more the 'documents pour artistes' that Atget advertised - the artist in this case also being the photographer.

Many more of Edwin's photographs can be viewed in the article Edwin Smith & Social Documentary Photography.

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Edwin Smith – Books

Edwin Smith books 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.

If you know of any that are not listed below then please let me know. Where copies of these books are available, links are given.

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Book Review: Evocations of Place

evocationsIn 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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Exhibitions of Paintings & Drawings

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".

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Exhibitions Chronology

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.

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