|Dates: ||1818 - 1877|
Based in London, Smee took an early interest in chemistry and electricity, activities that remained a major part of his life even after he became a medical doctor in 1840. In the first months of 1839, Smee mastered the new art of photogenic drawing, using ammonio-nitrate of silver both in printing and in the camera obscura. His detailed account in the Literary Gazette was a critical step in bringing Talbot’s first process into the wider range of chemistry. It was Smee’s reduction of iron salts that inspired Sir John Herschel to pursue a line of experimentation that led to the invention of the cyanotype and related processes. Smee’s father had been an accountant for the Bank of England, and perhaps that influence inspired Alfred’s interest in bank notes. The bank started using his long-lasting black ink in 1842, and Smee’s electroplating technique was adopted by the bank in 1853 to increase the longevity of the finely engraved printing plates. Smee’s interest in photography was always more concerned with process than production, but he maintained his interest in the art. In 1854 Smee hosted a soiree for scientists and artists, displaying a wide range of stereoscopic views, including paintings, daguerreotypes, and paper photographs.
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012.
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