Edwin Smith

An ostentatious avowal of honesty is the commonest prelude to an act of deception, and it cannot be reasonably doubted that he who first had need to claim that the camera could not lie concealed a well-worn retouching pencil behind his ear or beneath the folds of his generous tie

A fantastic opening line from a 1947 third edition of ‘All the Photo Tricks’ by Edwin Smith (great biog here, well worth a read) picked up at my old man’s auction house last spring and which I’ve been dipping into ever since.

Flowingly written, it’s the sort of British upper middle class boffin’s guide that had all but died out by the end if the 50s. I love the idea of hiding pencils in the folds of generous ties. Smith’s tips introduce themselves like dinner guests at some grand party. Take this example.

The activities of tone separation are not confined to any one room in photograph’s mansion, it has the run of the house and constitutes an alternative means of presenting any subject material.

Smith never really thought of himself as a photographer, he was an artist and an architect that just seemed to fall into the trade by chance. His equipment was 20 years out of date, yet he obtained some fantastic results. His choice of subject matter too, the English countryside or it’s churches, gives the impression of a gentle quiet man who saw photography as a means to record an environment around him that was soon to change for ever. This is perhaps born out on the final pages of the book.

The man who lives in 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.

no one writes guides like that anymore.

See more: V&A Exploring Photography – Edwin Smith.

1 Response to “Edwin Smith”

  1. 1 Roy October 30, 2005 at 10:59 am

    Nice to see that ‘All the Photo Tricks’ is still being read and quoted in these digital times!

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
October 2005
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