Musings on This Year, Lockdown, Zoom and Summer Sessions.
When I agreed to help continue to usher in the new wave of ideas that the previous Chair had started, little did I realise that what a wild ride this year would make it. As one-half of the Chair Team, I did not think it would be that difficult, my Co-Chair Richard and I are usually on the same kind of wave length and seem to be able to bounce ideas off each other pretty well. The Committee too also helped make the transition very easy – full of enthusiasm and a desire to see the club move forward. They are a great team to work with and I mean that sincerely.
Then lock down occurred and things changed but, thankfully not too drastically. Working in IT meant I had an idea things could keep going with Microsoft Teams but then some-one brought Zoom into the mix and upon testing found it remarkably intuitive to use. The club, in fact both clubs I belong to as well as many in the UK, jumped on the “Zoom bandwagon” to see the season through. I’m pleased to say that we only missed one club night at Otley due to the lock-down – the rest transferred to an online life which whilst not perfect showed the club could adapt, survive and indeed thrive.. It is not perfect a perfect fit. We have not seen some members at the online meeting and that has really brought home to me that the reason why camera clubs exist and more importantly, what they mean to people does vary and I’ll explore that a little later in this piece. For now, though, it’s certainly true to say that 2/3rds of the club embraced the online format. We managed to finish the season with 3 excellent talks from guest speakers Jeremy Mally-Smith, Diane Seddon and Oliver Wright. We ran two competitions, one judged externally (by Jed Wee) for Nature and whilst we would normally have a DPI and Print category, we switched to DPI only and allowed “Colour” and “Mono” as the two categories. It seemed to work really well both for the members and the judge with only grumbles from some quarters. The 2nd competition was “in house” for our “Photo of the Year” competition. Taking the format of a previous in-house competition where the images were judged in teams, only adapted to online and using the Zoom “Rooms” function. Each room contained a team who were given an hour to view the images together and individually award marks to their top five favourite images. These were noted onto a score sheet, totalled up and when everyone returned to the main room, the scores were given out “Eurovision” style. An Excel sheet was transformed into a scoreboard so people could see in “real time” where the points were going and which images were in line for “winning” – it created a tense but fun atmosphere. We also had a quiz night on what should have been the final evening of the season at the end of May. However, because it was all new and no one knew how long the lock down was going to be, we put to the members an idea of a “Summer Season”. It was met with a very positive response from club members and It wasn’t that difficult in the end as the rise of online pages like “UK Club Photography” meant it was easy to find and contact people who were offering their presentations via Zoom. UCP also provided a link for clubs to discuss how they were coping in the situation which, let’s face it, goes against the grain for most clubs. Although it also proved that many clubs do things differently, all seem to be united in the fact that meeting physically is a big part of UK Camera Club’s “way of life”. Most coped with the switch to online life but it does some many didn’t. We set up the Summer Sessions as a mix of “Social Nights” which were open to all members, every fortnight and then in between those we had “Speaker Nights” which were optional and if you wanted to take part in was a tenner all in. Remember this is the first time we have had a “Summer Season” and we didn’t really have one planned for our budget. Around 2/3rds of the membership paid the fee and we had very good turnouts for all the speaker nights. The Social nights varied in number with some nights only a handful to 15 or so. These Socials started off with a presentation from our “Dark Room” sub committee about how it was coming along – The “Dark Room” is going to be a members only repository of ideas, tips, useful weblinks and info about speakers and should be something we can use to offer value as part of the membership package especially newer members. It’s been tried in the past using a forum approach but let’s face it, forums aren’t the most up to date way of presenting this kind of material and it wasn’t used, this will be part of the Otley CC website. It’s got a very small target audience (club members) but already getting input from lots of that audience. We had also been running fortnightly “challenges” (we didn’t use the term “competition” on purpose) to encourage people to either raid their archives or get out and photograph something new. The Social nights gave us a chance to review the images and let the authors discuss the reasons and thoughts behind their image(s) whilst the rest of the audience could also comment. This was an idea I stole from my “other club” as when we did it there, I learnt more in that single session about other members and what they like to photograph than 2 years of seeing competition entries. The same proved true at Otley – the relaxed non competitive (on the whole) nature of the evenings let people actually discuss the merits of photography and various techniques away from the narrow confines of “Club Competition Rules” and also led to some deeper conversations about photography as an art form over all. I was really pleased with this, coming into clubs straight from a degree, It’s taken me a couple of years to get my head around the quirky and murky world of club competitions. Anyhow, these nights tended to end with the person who presented the images (the person who had picked the subject) to announce their favourite three. Their most favourite image then became the banner on the Facebook page being used for the challenge and that person then picked the next topic. This has worked so well that we’re going to be running something similar during the new season and separate to the main competitions. The speakers over the summer, I purposely picked to be as varied and different from what we would normally have. Our Programme committee work very hard to come up a great syllabus and I didn’t want to tread on their toes and I saw it as an opportunity to go outside camera club norms and have some things that resonated with me from my degree course. Self indulgent maybe but I was the one doing the picking. The first speaker was definitely different from the norm. Alan Harris has a fascinating presentation “In search of Charlie Curnow.” Charlie is a character from a series of books and Alan has investigated and photographed the areas that are described in the book, parts of Cornwall which also seem very familiar to Alan’s own South Wales. A fantastic introduction for many club members at project based work which prompted discussions about what we could do as a project. It wasn’t to every members taste but overall, it as a success.
Our the 2nd presentation was “In the making” A talk by Gareth Martin which showed the way he turns a “bog standard” pictures into Salon winning images. Like Alan, Gareth purposefully looks at images differently to the “camera club norm” and the way he edited his images got a few people giving it a go afterwards which is great result in my book.
Our 3rd presentation was very self indulgent. Gig photography by local photographer Neil Chapman. As an avid gig goer for over 30 years, it was the reason I picked up a camera in the first place. Neil I have known for a while as he’s got a very similar taste in music to me and we have exchanged many hello’s in the “Photo pit” and I find his style very inspirational. His presentation didn’t disappoint and feed back was over whelming positive from the club. Our last club presentation was by another tog I knew having attended one of her horse workshops (and I highly recommend them). Janey Lazenby is a “fine art” photographer and her talk on using textures has been touted by some members as “the best we’ve ever had” High praise considering we have had some really excellent speakers over the years. Her easy manner and way of presenting her techniques in an easy to understandably won people over. It’s certainly created a craze for members looking for textures when out and about with their cameras.
The Grand Finale for the summer was a joint club venture with 2 Southern based clubs, Benfleet and South London Photographic Society. This was for a presentation by Photographer Guy Edwardes. This came in two parts – his Landscape photos and his Nature images. Both were jaw droppingly stunning and this was my own personal favourite for sheer consistency of work. It’s a presentation normally out of our budget range so joining up with two other clubs and sharing the cost was a bonus which Zoom gave on top of everything else. Our final planned social brought some conversation about the next season and how we’ll still be online and how that would affect membership, particularly the ability to recruit new members. This is a very good question as I’ve already mentioned not all club members have joined the Zoom exodus. It puzzles me because all I’ve really seen is advantages, but every one is different. It prompted me to ask one of the many Facebook Groups photography groups I belong to, one with 10k world wide members, “What would stop you joining a physical Camera Club” I’ve put some of the answers I received below…
“I don't like conformity & the pompous attitudes. Plus I was bored rigid at the "come and see what we do/are" session.”
“I don't want a lot of the time to be spent on subjects I don't like.”
“I find now that camera clubs (photographic societies) are missing the teaching element. It seems to be competition after competition and some of the members don’t have time for beginners and won’t take the time to teach.”
“You always get the guy who has the most expensive equipment whose images are crap looking down his nose because you shoot with a Canon 400D as I did.”
“Sadly, too many camera clubs/photo societies, while they didn't start out like it, end up like Narcissists R Us....with cameras”
“UK clubs do have a reputation for being OAP social clubs. That doesn't mean they don't have great photographers amongst them and you can learn lots, but I've been to many where founder Dr Johnson arrives late, shuffles his way to his regular front seat, stops on the way to greet a few people, stops in front of the projector light to look at his pocket watch, slump into his chair to sleep until the tea break and do the same for the second half.”
It would seem that the Camera Club “scene” doesn’t have a good rep – indeed when I joined both my clubs I was nearing the end of 6 years studying a degree part time and was looking at ensuring I had a viable way of continuing my photographic journey. A club (or two) would help with that – my view of a club was a group of like minded individuals who’s interest in photography would include the kind of debate and practise that the college had given me. My tutors, however, had views similar to the above statements and indeed, it’s that perception that seems to be the norm. I’ve struck lucky with Otley. The first night was a really friendly, enjoyable evening and even though it’s not local to me I kept attending because it is a forward thinking club. Yes it has competitions, but they are not the be all and end all. The members (and some are long standing) embrace new things. It does have a good age (and gender) mix which helps. It also has developed a format for the season which has a great mix of speakers, competitions, practical sessions and fun nights. The latter in particular I think helps form a bond between club members. Our inhouse competitions have evolved away from “the judged by one person format” into more of a critique of images by the club in small groups. Otley has a very active “Out and About” section where we plan trips out to photograph things – this had also developed into Practical Sessions where studio photography can be tried and tested outside of club nights. All in all, I think Otley has got it right by offering something for everyone where ever possible be that speakers, learning, competitions or just a place to come and discuss photography once a week. I know the online style isn’t to every one’s taste and so be it, we will eventually return to physical meetings. In the mean time we offer so much more than the online Facebook style groups that have thousands of members. These online clubs seem to exist to fulfil people’s ego’s for posting pictures for likes, ask some very basic questions that could easily be googled or show off gear (and remember I belong to several so I’m not having a go per se – these are just observations). A fair few suffer the same issues that clubs are accused of, I’ve seen huffs and arguments, camera snobbery and obsessions over brands and camera gear. It really irks me when I see people posting about “up grading” their cameras to achieve better pictures. So, that said my question to people now would be “Why wouldn't you join a physical camera club, especially when they are easily available online now?”