Thomas Smillie

Last updated

Thomas Smillie
Portrait of Thomas William Smillie, circa 1910s.png
Thomas William Smillie

(1843-04-15)April 15, 1843
DiedMarch 7, 1917(1917-03-07) (aged 73)
Known forPhotography

Thomas William Smillie (April 15, 1843 – March 7, 1917) was a British-American photographer and archivist. He served as the first official photographer of the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the first official curator of the Smithsonian's photography collection. [1]


Early life

Smillie was born in Edinburgh, but moved to the United States with his family at age five. He eventually attended Georgetown University as a student in medicine and chemistry. [2]


At the age of 27, Smillie started for the Smithsonian as a staff photographer using different photographic techniques to document the Smithsonian's daily operation, its exhibitions and people. [3] In 1890, Louisa Bernie Gallaher was transferred to his photographic department after Smillie had noticed her photography skills. Gallaher became his chief assistant. [4]

Smillie gained field experience as an expedition photographer for the United States Fish Commission and he photographed the Solar eclipse of May 28, 1900. Additionally, upon the creation of the formal Section of Photography at the Smithsonian in 1896, Smillie was appointed a Smithsonian Custodian in charge of the growing photographic collection; [5] he would hold both positions until his death in 1917. [1] [6]

One of Smillie's interests was in preserving the history of photography. After assuming his curatorial duties, he decided that, "an effort will be made hereafter, especially in connection with the future expositions of amateur photography, to secure such works as are necessary to make the collection in the National Museum a reference and record collection, which shall not only be a matter of interest and pleasure to the public, but of practical value to the photographers themselves." [3] His initial purchases for the Section of Photography included a camera and equipment owned by Samuel Morse.

In 1913, Smillie curated the Smithsonian's first-ever photography exhibition. [5]

Frances Benjamin Johnston learned photography from him, among others. [7]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Steichen</span> American photographer, artist, and curator

Edward Jean Steichen was a Luxembourgish American photographer, painter, and curator, renowned as one of the most prolific and influential figures in the history of photography.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mathew Brady</span> American photographer (c. 1823 – 1896)

Mathew B. Brady was an American photographer, one of the earliest and most famous in American history. Best known for his scenes of the Civil War, he studied under inventor Samuel Morse, who pioneered the daguerreotype technique in America. Brady opened his own studio in New York City in 1844, and went on to photograph U.S. presidents John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Van Buren, among other public figures.

Paul Outerbridge, Jr. was an American photographer prominent for his early use and experiments in color photography.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gertrude Käsebier</span> American photographer (1852–1934)

Gertrude Käsebier was an American photographer. She was known for her images of motherhood, her portraits of Native Americans, and her promotion of photography as a career for women.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Valentine Blanchard</span> English photographer

Valentine Blanchard was a prominent English photographer who was widely recognized for his artistic and technical contributions to photography in the 1860s. Both his landscape and his portrait photography were highly valued by the public, commanding high prices and selling well. He was much appreciated by his peers for the technical innovations he pioneered in photographic processes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zaida Ben-Yusuf</span> American photographer (1869–1933)

Zaida Ben-Yusuf was an American portrait photographer based in New York. She was known for her artistic portraits of wealthy, fashionable, and famous Americans during the turn of the 19th–20th century.

Nathan Lyons was an American photographer, curator, and educator. He exhibited his photographs from 1956 onwards, produced books of his own and edited those of others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bourne & Shepherd</span> Indian photographic studio

Bourne & Shepherd was an Indian photographic studio and one of the oldest established photographic businesses in the world. Established in 1863, at its peak, it was the most successful commercial firm in 19th-and early 20th-century India, with agencies all over India, and outlets in London and Paris, and also ran a mail order service. A devastating fire in 1991 destroyed much of the studio's photographic archive and resulted in a severe financial loss to the firm. The long-term impact of the fire, legal difficulties with the Indian government, which owned the studio building, and the increasing dominance of digital technology, finally forced the studio's closure in June 2016. At its closure, the studio had operated continuously for 176 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deborah Willis (artist)</span> African-American artist, photographer, curator of photography

Deborah Willis is a contemporary African-American artist, photographer, curator of photography, photographic historian, author, and educator. Among her awards and honors, she is a 2000 MacArthur Fellow. She is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boston Camera Club</span>

The Boston Camera Club is the leading amateur photographic organization in Boston, Massachusetts and vicinity. Founded in 1881, it offers activities of interest to amateur photographers, especially digital photography. The club has activities year-round. The main programs run from September to June. Membership is by annual dues for regular members, families or students. Anyone may join. Meetings are open to visitors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eliot Elisofon</span>

Eliot Elisofon was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr.</span> American photographer

Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. was an American pictorialist photographer, active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was one of the first Americans to be admitted to the Linked Ring, and his photographs won dozens of medals at exhibitions around the world in the 1890s and early 1900s. He was famous among his contemporaries for his portraits of high-society women, most notably model and singer Evelyn Nesbit. Eickemeyer's best-known photographs are now part of the collections of the Smithsonian Institution.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bill Jay</span> British photographer and writer (1940–2009)

William Jay was a photographer, writer on and advocate of photography, curator, magazine and picture editor, lecturer, public speaker and mentor. He was the first editor of "the immensely influential magazine" Creative Camera (1968–1969); and founder and editor of Album (1970–1971). He is the author of more than 20 books on the history and criticism of photography, and roughly 400 essays, lectures and articles. His own photographs have been widely published, including a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is known for his portrait photographs of photographers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John P. Jacob</span> American curator (born 1957)

John P. Jacob is an American curator. He grew up in Italy and Venezuela, graduated from the Collegiate School (1975) in New York City, and studied at the University of Chicago before earning a BA in human ecology from the College of the Atlantic (1981) and an MA in art history from Indiana University (1994).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Troth</span>

Henry Troth was an American pictorialist photographer known for his original platinum photographs taken during the 18th-19th century. He developed his special platinum prints from the late 1880s until his death.

Thomas O’Conor Sloane, Jr. (1879–1963) was an American photographer.

Sam Falk was an early- and mid-twentieth-century American photojournalist who worked for The New York Times from 1925 to 1969, and wrote and photographed for other publications.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roger Taylor (photographic historian)</span> English curator and historian

Roger Taylor, MVO born 1940, is a curator, photographic historian, and educator specialising in nineteenth century British photography and its social and cultural history. He is Professor Emeritus of Photographic History at De Montfort University.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles F. Inston</span> British photographer

Charles Frederick Inston (1855–1917) was a British pictorialist photographer. He was elected a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1896 and Fellow in 1901 and was organiser of the Northern Photographic Exhibition from 1904. He became Secretary then President of the Liverpool Amateur Photographic Society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louisa Bernie Gallaher</span> American scientific photographer for the Smithsonian

Louisa Bernie Gallaher, also known as L. Bernie Gallaher, was an American scientific photographer for the Smithsonian United States National Museum (USNM). She was the Smithsonian's first woman photographer and worked at the institution for 39 years, from 1878 until her death in 1917.


  1. 1 2 "Smithsonian Institution". Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. Routledge. 16 December 2013. ISBN   9781135873271 . Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  2. "Who was the Smithsonian's first staff photographer?" . Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  3. 1 2 "Celebrating 120 Years of the Smithsonian's Photographic History Collection" . Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  4. Roby, Marguerite (28 March 2019). "The Woman Behind the Camera". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  5. 1 2 "The Smithsonian's First Photographer" . Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  6. Today in Smithsonian History: July 15, 1896. The Section of Photographic History, Division of Graphic Arts, United States National Museum, is established with Thomas William Smillie as custodian
  7. The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, Volume 1, edited by Joan M. Marter.