A leading local photographic society celebrates a milestone birthday this year. Neil Thomas reports
The hobby of photography has changed out of all recognition in recent decades.
For one thing, millions more people take pictures today, thanks to the advent of sophisticated mobile phones. What’s more, many – particularly the younger generation – are prolific. The ‘selfie’, combined with social media, means that today we can be the authors of our own lives in words and pictures, an instant, as-it-happened, potted autobiography.
Art rarely plays a part in this ‘snap, post and move on’ world. There are, though, still those for whom photography has a much deeper resonance. Those who seek to celebrate in a frame the world around us, the beauty and danger of nature, the human spirit, the simple objects of everyday life seen through a keener eye.
Which brings us onto Bridgnorth and District Camera Club, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
These days, it seems rare to find any club or society that has survived that long – not least with the recent lockdowns and restrictions of the pandemic – so it is an achievement to be applauded.
The club was founded on 30th April 1952 by a small number of local enthusiastic amateur photographers. It prides itself on its friendly and inclusive approach, welcoming new members regardless of whether they are complete beginners or more experienced photographers.
The club has certainly embraced the change in culture and equipment over the decades. “Our aim is to encourage and promote a diverse, vibrant interest in photography within the club whether it be with a digital camera or simply a mobile phone,” explains Publicity Officer Pauline Wellings.
Someone ideally placed to reflect on just how much photography has changed during the club’s lifetime, is its President, Ralph Walker. Ralph has been a member for most of the club’s 70 years, joining as a 15-year-old in 1961, and he has held every post except treasurer.
“I was always interested in photography from a young age. One day I came home from school and my dad said ‘you’re going to the Camera Club’. I went along and enjoyed it.”
The club’s first meeting was in the Foster Memorial Institute in High Street, but by the time Ralph joined, it had moved to the Evening Institute at 62 St Mary’s Street.
In fact, the club has had several homes over the decades, Ralph says. From St Mary’s Street it moved to the King’s Head pub in Whitburn Street and then to an annexe of Bridgnorth College in Listley Street, where it was based for much of its history.
More recent homes have been Cartway Methodist Church, Castle Hall in West Castle Street and its present meeting place, Low Town Community Hall in Severn Street.
It’s not just, of course, the venues that have changed. Technologically, there have been huge strides, and 75-year-old Ralph has had the excitement of living through them.
“When I started, the majority of photographs were black and white. It was a few years before we started using colour film regularly,” he explains. “There were dark rooms in which you disappeared to develop your own pictures, with trays of developing fluid and photographic paper hung up to dry. A lot more fuss but exciting in its way, waiting for the image to appear. In fact, I remember the club had its own dark room at Listley Street.”
Those of you who didn’t have your own dark rooms might doubtless remember dropping rolls of film at Boots and waiting with bated breath to see how many of your holiday shots had ‘come out’.
“While mobile phones and tablets mean anyone can take a decent-quality photograph, professionals and talented amateurs will spend large sums on expensive kit that gives them the edge”
The arrival of digital cameras, with images downloaded onto laptops and computers, has done away with all that. And the emergence of enhancing tools like Photoshop has aided the search for the perfect image.
All the gizmos going, though, are no help in supplying an essential ingredient of a great photograph. Its subject matter.
What you photograph is, in many ways, more important than the equipment you photograph it with. A face lined with character or of intense beauty, a sweeping vista, a comic pet, a scene bursting with action – the best will intrigue, inviting the viewer to weave their own story around it.
Light is key. Dedicated photographers will hang around for hours, often in freezing weather, waiting for the perfect sunset . . . or sunrise.
And the reward for those who belong to clubs and societies is the admiration of their peers and success in competitions. Ralph had only been a member for just over a year when he won Bridgnorth Camera Club’s much-prized Curwen Cup for one of his photographs – and still remembers, 60 years later, the pleasure it gave.
He recalls, too, his first camera, A Kodak Brownie 127 – a Bakelite model with fixed focus. While mobile phones and tablets mean anyone can take a decent-quality photograph, professionals and talented amateurs will spend large sums on expensive kit that gives them the edge. It’s not just about finding the right digital camera for you, although that it the key purchase. Zoom lenses, tripods, lighting and other specialist equipment ensure that the dedicated photographer rarely travels light. Nowadays, you can add drones to that list, as the photographer’s search for the ‘wow’ factor grows ever more ambitious.
Swapping ideas about the latest equipment and experiences using it, is all part of the fun of belonging to a club, and helps to forge friendships through a shared interest.
Bridgnorth and District Camera Club meets every fortnight on Thursday evenings in the Community Centre in Low Town, at 7.30m, and welcomes new members.
After the lockdowns and restrictions of the pandemic, when meetings were restricted to online, members are enjoying meeting in person again.
“It is the chance to make friends, talk to like-minded people and be part of a great community,” says Pauline. “We have talks and presentations from professional photographers, practical sessions and studio evenings, help and guidance with using software editing to get the most out of our images and club competitions both for projected images and prints. And we welcome all abilities. Help from more experienced members is always available.”
The club also organises trips to photographic venues and places of interest, not only in Shropshire but further afield. “They are a great way to develop skills, share ideas and techniques as well as a fun day out,” Pauline says.
“It prides itself on its friendly and inclusive approach, welcoming new members regardless of whether they are complete beginners or more experienced photographers.”
The club runs from September to May, before taking a summer break, and a packed programme has been put together for the 2021-22 season. Events up to Christmas just gone included talks by experienced wildlife photographer David Boag and Colin Trow-Poole, who specialises in people and places. There have been three competitions, with expert guest judges and, at time of going to press, there were plans for a Christmas party.
The New Year is set to start with a landscape competition, judged by Dave Tucker. On January 20, travel photographer Tony Jervis will present a talk, titled One Man and His Van, which features work from a 20,000-mile drive across Europe and Iran.
On February 3, the season’s fifth competition, featuring images on any subject for the Tomkins Cup, will be judged by David Lowe. On February 17, guest speaker will be Leigh Preston, talking about Photographic Opportunity, as he looks back on his 40-year-career through a selection of images.
On March 3, Van Greaves will present Two Hours from Home, an illustrated talk on photography in the Greater Midlands and Welsh Borders. New Techniques with Old Lenses, on March 17, is a presentation by Alan Gwilt, who will talk about using legacy lenses on modern digital cameras, low budget macro and pin-hole style photography. March 31 sees the club’s sixth competition of the season – a print contest on any subject – judged by David Rann.
On April 14, Photographer of the Year for the past three years, Dominic Rodgers will explain and demonstrate how his successful table-top images are produced.
A celebration of the club’s special anniversary is set for April 28. Bridgnorth and District Camera Club 70 years, is a celebration and review of the club’s first seven decades. The annual dinner and awards evening is provisionally set for May 5 with the AGM earmarked for May 12.
Bridgnorth and District Camera Club clearly has plenty to offer and it is hoped that this packed programme might attract a few new members to mark this significant milestone. The concept of organised clubs and societies, across a broad range of interests, seems to have rather gone out of fashion, with the younger generation choosing to socialise in different ways. Everywhere you look, membership numbers are down and Bridgnorth and District Camera Club is not immune. Ralph Walker recalls the days when membership was more than 60-strong. Now, it is in the 20s.
Photography, though, remains a wonderful hobby. And it might just be that 2022 and the occasion of its 70th birthday, sees Bridgnorth and District Camera Club reverse that downward trend.
Visit www.bridgnorthcameraclub.org.uk for more information.