I had the pleasure of attending the New England Camera Club Council's annual conference at UMass Amherst last weekend as a speaker. This is fairly large event with about 1000 people attending from all over New England.
My topic was "Film is Alive!" It was a basic survey of traditional film photography and practices despite the fact digital would 'make it easier' in most cases, about committed traditional resources, showcased some traditional and historical prints, talked about a bit about anecdotal trends in film equipment, and what camera clubs can do to contribute to keeping traditional film use around - print exchanges, traveling camera, scavenger hunts, workshops, specific film based competitions. You can imagine it was a tough subject for this demographic! Kodak, APUG, Lomographic Society, AlternativePhotography.com, Freestyle, Photographer's Formulary, Bostick & Sullivan, several print exchange prints, a few of my favourite traditional film based photographers like Robb Kendrick and Sasha Dean Biyan featured prominently. I had about 20, 25 and 10 attendees for my three sessions, which isn't too bad considering I was expecting no one to show up!
Here are some of my observations:
- This is definitely a digital only event. I did not see a single film based session. Speaker after speaker talked about digital equipment and Photoshop techniques, or why digital was better than film.
- It's definitely a geriatric based organization. Most of the young people attending were either female models for their 'model shoots' or kids of attendees/organizers who were the behind the scenes volunteers.
- There was a print competition that Gene and Dave went to. One can see that for this crowd, photography is becoming about Photoshop skills. It's not about taking photos, it's about manipulation, correcting and editing in the computer with Photoshop. They should call it a Photoshop print competition - really, who are they fooling here? But, there were gems - a stereophotography display was very neat, there was a real platinum print, and there were several real prints - one overall winner actually being a traditional film based print.
- Camera Clubs are about the image at the end of the day. I know there's a thread here about process, but to the vast majority of CC members, there is only one photographic process, and that is Photoshop. All other processes are marginalized.
- The vendors area was very digital based. Hunt's had some 35mm film for sale. The rest was a computer hardware and software show, much like most photography trade shows these days.
- The 'professionals' attending are wedding, portrait, highschool senior, catalog, travel, outdoor, low end commercial based types. So, I'm going to write something controversial here, but these folks aren't really "artists", aren't they?
- Many of the keynote speakers were 'professional' speakers sponsored by - guess who? - companies that have a vested interest in digital based photography. Kodak was not a sponsor, but Fuji sponsored a prominent session on Digital Nature Photography with several photographers parading a host of digital workflows.
So there are CC members that will insist that everyone (film, digital, both) is welcome to these events. That's true. And the attendees, organizers and NECCC execs I met were absolutely first class, friendly, nice people.
I think what the CC leadership and NECCC organizers fail to realize is the subtle 'vibe' that they are giving out to non-digital photographers. Much the same vibe in many of the internet photography forums. Everyone is welcome, but most, if not all, of the discussions is about digital. Another example is the 'loaner program' they had by Nikon and Canon. Guess how many film cameras there were for loaning? Throw in a couple folks who say things like: "You still shoot film?", "I completely switched and I don't understand why anyone would go back", "I went all digital and was so glad.", etc... and it really doesn't make for a welcoming environment for anyone that shoots film.
Speakers are provided with rooms. There happened to be a floor party the first night I was there and naturally I went. It was right outside my door - who could resist. We introduced ourselves, etc... and when it came to my turn, I mentioned I was speaking on "Film is Alive!" to which one of the NECCC execs said "So you must be talking about fiction then?" to a chorus of yuk yuks and chuckles. Nice.
Another issue for CC's is the fact they have lost significant numbers of members - almost all of their film based members and most of their youngsters. Camera Clubs are no longer about the entire gamut of photography, but about digital photography. Those that practice other forms are marginalized, and so, why would they continue to be members?
I do hope next year to push for cyanotype workshops, darkroom classes, talks on ToyCameras, making a pinhole camera, etc... I may reach out to NE APUG locals. In my talks I mentioned that if CC's are to be one steward of photography, they must find ways to include all types of photography into their programming. On the other hand, if we in APUG are also stewards, of traditional film based photography, then we too must find ways to reach out.
Regardless, I did have a good time, I met lots of good people who genuinely like photography and I met several people who love traditional film based photography too.
BTW UMass Amherst is a great place for a weekend photo get together.