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Installation View of Smithsonian Photography Exhibition

Description: This image of a photography exhibition is an example of the day-to-day documentation of Smithsonian life and work that curator Thomas Smillie and his staff regularly performed. Smillie used blue cyanotypes like this one to keep track of the glass-plate negatives his staff made, in part because the medium presented a quick and inexpensive way to create photographic prints. The bulky glass negatives were numbered and filed, and a corresponding blueprint catalogue was kept to help readily locate them.


Creator/Photographer: Thomas Smillie

Birth Date: 1843

Death Date: 1917


Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1843, Thomas William 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.


Medium: Cyanotype


Dimensions: 7.4" x 9.6"


Date: 1913


Collection: Thomas Smillie Collection (Record Unit 95) - Thomas Smillie served as the first official photographer for the Smithsonian Institution from 1870 until his death in 1917. As head of the photography lab as well as its curator, he was responsible for photographing all of the exhibits, objects, and expeditions, leaving an informal record of early Smithsonian collections.


Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives


Accession number: RU95_Box76_18664

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Uploaded on June 4, 2008