To coincide with the opening of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)'s new Architecture Gallery at their headquarters in London's Portland Place, the first major retrospective of Edwin Smith will open next month. Smith, one of Britain's foremost 20th century photographers, was considered a master of capturing the essence of the places, landscapes and buildings he documented over an extensive career. The exhibition, entitled Ordinary Beauty, will display over a hundred carefully curated black and white images from a collection of over 60,000 negatives and 20,000 prints donated by Olive Cook, Smith's widow and collaborator, to the RIBA Library.
Hailed by Sir John Betjeman as a "genius at photography" and by Cecil Beaton as "an understanding and loving connoisseur of his subject," Smith explored urban scenes documenting British social history alongside evocative landscape images and atmospheric interiors. Alongside his photographs of Britain, the exhibition will also show images captured on his travels to Europe as well as his published books and photographic equipment. Specially filmed contributions ranging from Alan Bennett to broadcaster Gillian Darley will offer personal perspectives on Smith’s work.
For the late Robert Elwall, author of Evocations of Place: The Photography of Edwin Smith and a previous curator of the RIBA Photographs Collection, stated that "the recurring themes of Edwin Smith’s work – a concern for the fragility of the environment, both natural and man-made; an acute appreciation of the need to combat cultural homogenisation by safeguarding regional diversity; and, above all, a conviction that architecture should be rooted in time and place – are as pressing today as when Smith first framed them in his elegantly precise compositions."
Valeria Carullo, co-curator of the exhibition, describes Edwin Smith's images as provoking "an immediate emotional response and at the same time offer the opportunity for observation and reflection. This exhibition offers a timely reappraisal of his exceptional work and emphasises the prominent place he deserves in the history of British photography."
The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks, films and events, and will be free to enter. Find out more here.