The Royal Photographic Society
is the world's oldest national photographic society. It was founded in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
, United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....
in 1853 as The Photographic Society of London
with the objective of promoting the Art and Science of Photography
Photography is the art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film...
. In 1874 it was renamed the Photographic Society of Great Britain
, and in 1894 it became The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain
. The Royal Photographic Society was granted a Royal Charter
A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organizations such as cities or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and...
in July 2004. and is an educational charity. For most of its history the Society was based at various premises in London. It moved to Bath in 1979 and since 2004 its headquarters has been at Fenton House, 122 Wells Road, Bath, Somerset BA2 3AH, UK. Membership is international and open to anyone with an interest in photography.
The Society offers various levels of distinctions in all aspects of photography and an Imaging Scientist qualification. It runs an extensive programme of over 300 events throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, through local groups and special interest groups. The Society acts as a national voice for photographers and for photography more generally and it represents these interests on a range of governmental and national bodies dealing with areas as diverse as copyright and photographers' rights. The Society's collection of historic photographs, photographic equipment and books was deposited for the nation at the National Media Museum in Bradford
Bradford lies at the heart of the City of Bradford, a metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire, in Northern England. It is situated in the foothills of the Pennines, west of Leeds, and northwest of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897...
Photographers were slow in coming together and forming clubs and societies. The first was an informal grouping the Edinburgh Calotype Club
The Edinburgh Calotype Club was the first photographic club in the world.-List of prominent members:* John Adamson , doctor and chemist in St...
around 1843 and the first photographic society, the Leeds Photographic Society in 1852 and claims to be the oldest photographic society in the world. In other countries the Société française de photographie
The Société française de photographie is an association, founded in 1854, devoted to the history of photography. It has a large collection of photographs and old cameras...
was founded in Paris in 1854.
Founding and early history
The catalyst behind the formation of The Photographic Society was Roger Fenton. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had raised public awareness of photography and in December 1852 an exhibition of nearly 800 photographs at The Society of Arts had brought together amateur and professional photographers. The inaugural meeting of The Photographic Society was held on 20 January 1853. Fenton became the Society's first secretary, a position he held for three years.
Modernisation and the 1970s
As Jane Fletcher has argued the changing nature of photography and photographic education in the early 1970s forced The Society to modernise and to become more relevant to British photography. An internal review led to constitutional changes, the introduction of a new distinction called the Licentiate in 1972 and six new specialist groups were established.
The Bath Project
The rising cost of maintaining The Society's premises in South Audley Street, London, eventually led the Society's Executive Committee to look for alternative premises. The Council approved at a meeting on 1 April 1977 a move to Bath and the establishment of a National Centre of Photography to house the Society's headquarters and collection. An appeal for £300,000 was launched in the summer of 1978 for the funds needed to convert The Octagon and adjacent buildings in Milsom Street, Bath. The inaugural exhibition opened in May 1980 with the building officially opened by Princess Margaret in April 1981.
Although the Society's inaugural meeting took places at the Society of Arts in London it was some time before the Society had its own permanent home. A number of addresses, some concurrently for different types of meetings, were used.
Premises used were: Royal Society of Arts, John Adam Street; 20 Bedford Street, 4 Trafalgar Square, 21 Regent Street, 28 George Street (Hanover Square), 1 Coventry Street; Kings College, Strand; 9 Conduit Street, 5A Pall Mall East, London - used for certain meetings until 1899; 50 Great Russell Street; and 12 Hanover Square, London.
The Society's permanent premises were:
1899-1909 - 66 Russell Square, London
March 1909-March 1939 - 35 Russell Square, London
1939-1968 - Princes Gate, London
1968-1970 - No. 1 Maddox Street (temporary premises)
1970-1979 - 14 South Audley Street, London
1980-2003 - The Octagon, Milsom Street, Bath
2004-date - Fenton House, 122 Wells Road, Bath. Officially opened 16 February 2005.
Coat of Arms
The Society's coat of arms is made up of the following elements:
These elements represent the basis of black and white photography, and that photographic images are perceived through the eyes with all light and energy ultimately deriving from the sun.
The concept of the lynx on the crest derives from the fact that the lynx, in mythological terms, is said to have the power of being "all seeing" - into and through substances - and therefore is appropriate to photography and imaging. The device held by the lynx represents both the basis of photography - the rare and normal crystalline habits of silver halides - and commemorates the historic time of The Society at the Octagon in Bath.
The lions on either side of the shield with their ciphers (V and A) pay tribute to our historical connections and Royal Patronage dating back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The lions are based on those on Prince Albert's garter stallplate at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
The motto translates to 'All life perceived' to indicate that the ability and potential for photography to observe and record (and thereby help us to understand) so much of that which constitutes our life.
The badge is based on the device held by the lynx (described above) which in turn is taken from the old brand of The Society and it also incorporates and ancient royal crown.
The Society had collected photographs and items of historical importance on an ad hoc basis but there was no formal collecting policy until John Dudley Johnston was appointed Honorary Curator a post he held between 1924 and 1955. Up to Johnston's appointment the collection has largely concentrated on technical advances of photography and Johnston began to concentrate on adding pictorial photography to the collection.
On Johnston's death in 1955 his role of Honorary Curator was taken over by his wife Florence and a succession of paid and unpaid staff including Gail Buckland, Carolyn Bloore, Arthur Gill, Valerie Lloyd, and Brian Coe, with Professor Margaret Harker as Honorary Curator over a long period. Pam Roberts was appointed curator, a position she held until the collection was closed in 2001 pending its transfer to the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television (NMPFT) in 2002.
By 1953 the number of items in the Society's Collection had reached 'upwards' of 3000 items. At the time of the Collection's transfer to the NMPFT, now the National Media Museum, it consisted of some 270,000 photographic objects, over 6000 items of photographic equipment, 13,000 books, 13,000 bound periodicals, and 5000 pother photography-related documents.
The Society's early records, Council, Committee and Meeting Minute books, are held with the Society's Collection at the National Media Museum where they are available to the public. More recent Council and committee minutes are retained by the Society in Bath. There is no published or online record of former or current members of the Society. Occasional lists of members were published by the Society up the 1890s when lists were issued more regularly, from the 1930s membership lists were issued periodically and are now not issued. New members have usually been recorded in the Photographic Journal
. There is a project to publish an online searchable database of members from 1853-1900. The Society has a card index of members from the late 1930s-1980s which it will search on request and may also be able to assist with membership enquiries between 1900 and the 1930s. Current membership data is held in a computer database and remains confidential.
From the Society's formation it has published a journal and other publications have been issued over the years.
The Photographic Journal
The Society's journal was original called The Journal of The Photographic Society of London
and for most of its existence has simply been called The Photographic Journal
, is is now called RPS Journal
. It has been published since 1853. Past editors have included Arthur Henfrey, Hugh Welch Diamond
Hugh Welch Diamond was an early British psychiatrist and photographer who made a major contribution to the progress of the craft....
, William de Wiveleslie Abney, H. H. Blacklock, and more recently Jack Schofield
Jack Schofield is a British technology journalist and former Computer Editor for The Guardian newspaper, for whom he started writing a weekly computer column in 1983. He joined the staff to launch the newspaper's computer section in 1985...
. The current editor is David Land.
The Imaging Science Journal
The Society publishes a peer-reviewed journal devoted to imaging science and technology, 'The Imaging Science Journal
The Imaging Science Journal , formerly The Journal of Photographic Science, is a bimonthly peer-reviewed academic journal covering both fundamental and applied scientific aspects of imaging, including conventional, analogue chemical, electronic, digital and hybrid imaging systems...
', previously known as the Journal of Photographic Science
The Year's Photography
The Year's Photography
was published annually by the Society from 1922 until at least 1961. The flyleaf of the 1957 edition states 'This edition contains a selection from all the exhibitions held in 1956 under the Society's auspices which contained pictures suitable for reproduction There are also review of artistic photography and of the nature exhibition'. The publication gives a broad overview of the state of British amateur and professional photography during the year.
Over the years the Society has published a number of one-off publications often in partnership with commercial publishers. These include John Wall's Directory of British Photographic Collections
in conjunction with Heinemann (1977), Roger Reynolds (ed.), Portfolio 1
(2007) and Roger Reynolds (ed.), Portfolio 2
(2010). The Society publishes an annual International Print Exhibition
catalogue and increasingly publishes digital catalogues of its exhibitions.
There are no restrictions on membership which is international and includes amateur and professional photographers through to photographic scientists and those involved in exhibiting, curating and writing about photography, as well as those with a general interest in the medium.. Many of the great names in photographic history as well as many well-known photographers today have been members.
Distinctions and Qualifications
Until 1895 membership was limited simply to 'members' with some minor distinctions for those living overseas, In that year the Society introduced a new membership category of Fellow and it now offers (from lowest to highest distinction):
- LRPS: Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society introduced in 1972
- ARPS: Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society introduced in 1924
- FRPS: Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society introduced in 1895
These require the submission of evidence - photographs or written - which is assessed by competent panels before they are awarded by the Society's Council.
In addition the Society's Imaging Scientist
Imaging science is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the generation, collection, duplication, analysis, modification, and visualization of images . As an evolving field it includes research and researchers from physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, computer vision, computer science,...
Qualifications provide a structure leading to professional qualifications for engineers, scientists and technologists whose professional activities are concerned with quantitative or mechanic aspects of imaging systems or their applications.
The Society has held an annual exhibition since 1854. The Society now holds an annual International Print Exhibition, sponsored by Allen and Overy, which tours the United Kingdom, an annual International Projected Image Exhibition which tours; a Members' Exhibition and Science exhibition; and monthly exhibitions of members' work at Fenton House.
Awards and Medals
Each year the Society presents a series of medals and awards to photographers and other individuals in photography. The most important of these is the Progress Medal which was instituted in 1878. The medal is awarded in recognition of any invention, research, publication or other contribution which has resulted in an important advance in the scientific or technological development of photography or imaging in the widest sense. It also carries with it an Honorary Fellowship of The Society.