Who was the Smithsonian’s first staff photographer?


Who was the Smithsonian’s first staff photographer?



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Thomas William Smillie (1843-1917) was the Smithsonian’s first staff photographer, and also served as the Institution’s first photography curator.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1843, Smillie immigrated to the United States with his family when he five years old. After studying chemistry and medicine at Georgetown University, he took a job as a photographer at the Smithsonian Institution, where he stayed for nearly fifty years until his death in 1917. Smillie’s duties and accomplishments at the Smithsonian were vast: he documented important events and research trips, photographed the museum’s installations and specimens, created reproductions for use as printing illustrations, performed chemical experiments for Smithsonian scientific researchers, and later acted as the head and curator of the photography lab. Smillie’s documentation of each Smithsonian exhibition and installation resulted in an informal record of all of the institution’s art and artifacts. In 1913, Smillie mounted an exhibition on the history of photography to showcase the remarkable advancements that had been made in the field but which he feared had already been forgotten.

You can read more about Smillie in the click! photography changes everything story, “Photography changes how we collect, preserve, and present cultural artifacts,” as well as the blog post, “The Smithsonian's First Photographer.”

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