He was born in Wellingborough, England, the son of a Wesleyan minister, and attended the University of London. In 1906 he was awarded his D.Sc. with a dissertation on photographic theory. From 1906 until 1912 he worked for Wratten and Wainwright, Ltd., assisting Frederick Wratten in developing the first panchromatic photographic plates, as well as light filters and safelights for the darkroom.
In 1912 the Eastman Kodak company acquired Wratten and Wainwright because they were interested in the skills Mees provided. He moved to the United States and set up the Kodak Research Laboratories in Rochester, New York, and become the first director. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he became an American citizen so that he could have access to high security war projects and information. Later he was named vice president in charge of Research and Development for Eastman-Kodak, and remained at that position until he retired in 1955. He was awarded the Franklin Medal in 1954.
During his career he published 100 scientific papers and 60 other works. Among his accomplishments was the development of sensitive photographic emulsions for use in astronomy.
There is a biography of Mees by Geoffrey Crawley in Amateur Photographer 12 December 2009, p. 63.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees, An Atlas of Absorption Spectra, 1909.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees, The Photography of Colored Objects, 1909.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees, Photography, Macmillan Co., New York, 1942.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees, The Theory of the Photographic Process, Macmillan Co., New York, 1942.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees & S. Sheppard, Investigations on the Theory of the Photographic Process.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees, The Path of Science, J. Wiley & sons, inc., 1946.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees and John A. Leermakers, The Organization of Industrial Scientific Research, McGraw-Hill, 1950.
- C.E. Kenneth Mees, From dry plates to ektachrome film : a story of photographic research, Ziff-Davis Pub. Co., 1961.
Awards and honors
- Progress Medal, Royal Photographic Society, Great Britain.
- Henry Draper Medal, National Academy of Sciences, 1936.
- Franklin Medal.
- Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
- Fellow of the Royal Society, 1939. 
- Inductee, International Photography Hall of Fame, 1972.
- The C.E.K. Mees Award is the highest research honor given by the Kodak company.
- The C.E.K. Mees Medal, awarded in odd-numbered years by the Optical Society of America, is named after him and was endowed by the Mees family.
- The University of Rochester's C.E.K. Mees Observatory is named after him.
- The crater Mees on the Moon is named after him.
- Mees Solar Observatory on the summit of Haleakala is named after him.
- Clark, W. (1961). "Charles Edward Kenneth Mees. 1882-1960". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 7: 172–126. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1961.0014.
- Photoresearcher (European Society for the History of Photography) (1–6): 87. 1990. "Mees then took up US citizenship to become more involved in activities concerning the evaluation and supply of equipment and materials."
- "Dr. C. E. Kenneth Mees". Image (The Bulletin of the George Eastman House). Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Dr. C.E. Kenneth Mees (1882–1960)
- Historically speaking - tribute to C.E. Kenneth Mees, scientist and photographer, and former VP at Eastman Kodak
- Charles Edward Kenneth Mees 1882-1960 Mees' role in history of infrared photography development and Kodachrome
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir