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The life & work of Edwin Smith & Olive Cook

Cooperating with the Inevitable

Edwin and Olive's wedding in 1954Olive Cook became a good friend of mine during the 1980s and I acted as her printer for Edwin’s photographs for many years. I created a website about Edwin after her death in 2002 as a small contribution to her life-long effort to keep his memory alive, something she had tirelessly devoted herself to since his death in 1971. 

Over time, it seemed appropriate to start including information on Olive as well, as their lives were so inextricably linked. Contained within the site is much biographical information, many essays and transcriptions, together with examples of Edwin’s photographs, books, drawings, paintings and linocuts alongside biographical material on Olive and her writings.

Where material has been gleaned from other sources acknowledgement is given. Particular thanks are due to the late Robert Elwall, for his extensive help and for giving permission to reproduce photographs from the RIBA collection free of charge. Thanks also go to John Randle of Whittington Press, for permission to reproduce many articles from Matrix and to the endlessly-patient archivists at Newnham College, Cambridge, for their cooperation on numerous occasions.

I am particularly indebted to photographer, friend and colleague, Brian Human, who has helped immeasurably during the evolution of the website. His contributions based on interviews with people that knew Edwin and Olive and his extensive research at the RIBA and of the Olive Smith Papers held by Newnham College library give the content a richness it would not otherwise have.

Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971), the photographer, produced quintessential images of English architecture, landscapes, gardens and interiors.

He described himself asThe Edwin Smith 'estate' stamp, used by Edwin on all his photographs and now applied to authorised prints from his negatives.

"an architect by training, a painter by inclination, and a photographer by necessity"

He considered his life to consist mainly of "going with the flow" and "co-operating with the inevitable".
Trained as an architect, he was also a prolific artist, producing countless drawings, watercolour and oil paintings, woodcuts and linocuts throughout his life. His photographs featured in books covering a wide range of subjects and places, often produced in partnership with his wife, the artist and author Olive Cook.

Read more: Cooperating with the Inevitable

Edwin Smith Exhibitions

The last photograph taken by Edwin Smith, from the author's collection.The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is hosting the first major retrospective of the photographs of Edwin Smith from 10 September 2014 – 6 December 2014.

Entitled Ordinary Beauty: The Photography of Edwin Smith it draws on the archive of his work held at the RIBA following the bequest by his widow Olive Cook in 2002. Such an overview of his work is long overdue and it is to the credit of the RIBA that they have commissioned this eagerly anticipated show.

Details from the Fry Gallery Website

The Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex, hosted a major exhibition of Edwin Smith's paintings, drawings, cuts and photographs from July 7 until September 1, 2013.

The author of this site contributed paintings, photographs, woodcuts and artefacts for inclusion in this show. Details of the Edwin Smith collection at the Fry may be viewed on their website: Fry Gallery Edwin Smith Collection.