Life and Death – The Rise and Fall of the Social Club
Camera clubs… It’s something I’ve been thinking about very recently. Most of you will look on camera clubs as “full of old men sporting beards and reminiscing over the death of film”, well you are probably right. In my experience of hunting out a camera club that I would want to spend some time at, that tended to be the case, but in the end I settled on the local one which isn’t full of old men sporting beards, but instead has a fairly even split of men/woman and ages, with a variety of experience levels as well. But in my search it would appear that I missed keeping an eye out for another aspect of a long running club, the “social” club gang.
For some strange reason I ended up running the web site for the club I joined, which is ok, after all it dovetails with the 9-5 skill set. This in turn has meant that I became a committee member which has proved to be an aspect that I hadn’t bargained on. By being a committee member, other normal members come to you with suggestions and requests that they would like to see the club implement or adopt. The other thing they do is moan, but more about that later. Taking ideas to the committee isn’t as straight forward as you might expect because the committee is generally manned by members who have been with the club for a long time and can appear set in their ways or dismissive of ideas because something similar has been tried at some point before and wasn’t deemed an amazing success. I think because of this a club becomes formulaic in it’s approach and dangerously takes a step towards death. Did I mention the members moan about the club?
So what is the life of the club? Well it tends to fit around 3 main areas: competitions, lectures and to a lesser extent practical sessions. Over time the practical sessions have been converted into a mixture of table top photography, studio and special interest groups (SIGs). The SIGs are held on a Sunday morning and aren’t very well attended because it seems that most people have a life at the weekend – including myself.
Competitions provide an opportunity to have your work “judged” by a judge with a tiny amount of critic given. Some members of the club think that this is enough to help everyone improve, but it basically boils down to a few seconds per picture for a total of 12 pictures over the year. Hardly what you would call providing feedback.
Lectures have been a mix of solid photographic information and travelogues. You might think that this would be good, apart from they tend to be in a 20/80 split with 80% being travelogues. I feel sorry for the lecturers that turn round at the mid point and see that half of the audience have got up and gone. The other problem with our lecturers is that the majority of them show pictures which are dwarfed in quality by online communities such as 500px or 1x.com In fact I wonder sometimes if they know that these resources exist.
Studio sessions have tended to be unguided with no help in setting lights or directing models, but this is gradually changing with the more knowledgable portrait photographers stepping up.
Oh by the way the members moan. One of the things they moan about is the travelogues and the lack of practical sessions or talks where they can learn something. There is a want within the club to help the members become better photographers, produce more striking images and do better in competitions – the idea being that this will help promote the club as a place of excellence, skill and vision. But the members moan that they don’t get the help to do this. The committee moan that the members aren’t good enough. Something is wrong somewhere and I think I know where the blame lies.
At the end of last year the programme secretary stepped down and a new one was appointed with a vision of changing the programme. As it stands the programme secretary produces the programme for the following year, but this means another year of potentially poor lectures and lack of growth in the members, so a radical idea occurred that the programme could be overhauled and the more obvious travelogue lectures dropped in favour of more practical sessions on camera and image processing as well as lecturers outside of the normal circuit – local inspiring photographers as well as potentially more high profile ones that some of us have access to (including a famous Sun photographer…). So did it work out? nope. The group that formulated the plan failed to get the buy in of the committee as a whole because they were running out of time as the season start approached and a number of strong voices on the committee balked at the idea. The timing was wrong both in the point in the season to attempt it and also the amount of time to set it in motion.
At this point your probably thinking the blame should lie with the programme secretary. Actually I don’t think that is true, the blame lies with the committee and the members. The committee is failing the members, and the members aren’t holding the committee to account.
Back in June a fellow club member sent a link to an article on the Independent website “The Rise and Fall of the Camera Club” and after the past week I’ve re-read the article and it’s resonance has been stronger than ever. I see the club I’m a member of in the article, but it also eludes to a new type of club which for me looks to be more enticing.
So after two years what have I learned? Nothing photographically, only that the camera club I joined is a social club and I’m not sure I want to be in a social club.