Croydon Camera Club
Croydon Camera Club

Charles Edward Kenneth Mees

The Biography of Dr MeesBy Walter Clark FPSA, 1943
Dr Mees Biography Part 1

Charles Edward Kenneth Mees Hon. FPSAA

DR MEES was born at Wellingborough, England, on May 26, 1882, the son of a Wesleyan minister. His early schooling was of the conventional classical type, but he soon specialized in scientific work, which paved the way for his entry to University College, London, as a student of chemistry. In his last year at school, he carried out some research work in organic chemistry, the only work in that field which he has done. At this school he met S. E. Sheppard, who went to University College at the same time, and the two formed a friendship and association which has lasted to the present time.

When Mees and Sheppard entered the University of London, the professor of chemistry was William Ramsay, who was not only the greatest experimental chemist in England, but who also had the firm belief that the only way to teach students chemistry was to let them do it. Routine was at a minimum, and when a student had shown his ability to master the methods of analysis and synthesis, Ramsay threw him onto a problem and left him to his devices. This proved to be too drastic for many unhappy students, but it had the merit of revealing those who had a real aptitude for research.

About the end of his first year at College, Mees became ill. Fortunately, Ramsay took a great personal interest in his students and when students did not seem to be in their best form, Ramsay often put them onto new research. He wanted to do this in Mees' case, feeling that his illness might have been partly due to overwork in the normal routine of a college course. It presented a difficult situation as far as university procedure was concerned, for, theoretically, a student had to run the full gamut of his course before he could get his bachelor's degree. Ramsay solved it in characteristic fashion by persuading the University Senate to institute a degree by research.

Mees had for some time been interested in taking photographs, and he and Sheppard had often discussed what happened to a plate when it was exposed in a camera and developed to give a negative. They asked their professors and consulted books, but nobody seemed to know, and it became evident that little attention had been paid to the science of photography and that no clear picture of the theory of the photographic process was available. In their search of the scientific literature, however, they found the great paper by Hurter and Driffield, two scientists but amateurs in photography, who wanted to improve their work and understand what was involved. It should be remembered that in the last century all the great advances in photography had been made by amateurs, but it was the scientifically inclined amateurs who started the work which led to the understanding of what it was all about.

In their classical paper published in 1890 in the Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry in England, Hurter and Driffield laid down the basic theory necessary for the understanding of what happens in exposure and development. Sheppard and Mees studied the paper carefully and were struck by the primitive nature of the experimental methods which Hurter and Driffield used and by the rather crude character of their apparatus. It became clear that the first step on the road to the study of photographic theory was to repeat the work with more refined apparatus. They started, therefore, to design this apparatus and to repeat Hurter and Driffield's measurements, and this work was submitted to the examiners as theses for the B.Sc. degrees by research. When the work was finished and the degrees granted, the two students started further work on the theory of the photographic process as researches to be offered for the degree of Doctor of Science, a requirement for which was a further three years of continuous research.

The University was not able to provide proper room for the research they had in mind, so Sheppard fitted out a laboratory in his house, and Mees transformed a shed in the garden into a darkroom and laboratory. They extended Hurter and Driffield’s work considerably and improved their methods, and Sheppard in particular threw a great deal of light on the chemistry of development. In 1906 they wrote their theses, which were published as a book, "Investigations on the Theory of the Photographic Process", which is known by photographic workers the world over as "Sheppard and Mees", and they obtained their degrees of Doctors of Science.

Then, of course, came the problem facing every student who has successfully rounded off his university career: that of finding a job. Sheppard wandered to further fields of study, and Mees was inclined to enter the field of education as a science master. But, here again, the sage mind of Ramsay made itself felt. He advised Mees to go into industry, in the belief that scientific research workers were necessary to aid British industry. He insisted on Mees getting a job in the photographic industry, and Mees agreed to do so.