Edwin Smith’s England is a faraway place, and yet a familiar one. It’s a land inhabited by long-skirted ladies with perms, where brass cash registers are used on high streets fronted by butchers and bakers and grocers. No surprise then that the people’s poet Sir John Betjeman dubbed Smith a “genius at photography” because he has, in his vast collection of photographs of city and countryside, inside and outside, captured the essence of the now-distant England portrayed in the writer’s verse.
Smith’s photographs evoke all the comfort and nostalgia of cosying up on a sofa cuddling a mug of cocoa whilst it’s raining outside. They’re so enrapturing I could happily leaf through all 20,000 prints donated by Smith’s widow, Olive Cook, to the RIBA without need for tea or loo breaks. These are the perfect answer to all those “I wonder what this used to look like…” moments had by an over-imaginative history nerd like me and a fascinating cultural archive stretching the length and breadth of the British Isles.
Ordinary Beauty: The Photography of Edwin Smith is on at the Architecture Gallery, RIBA, 66 Portland Place until 6 December 2014. Find out more on our exhibitions listing site, This At There.