While I’m Texas born and raised, I spent a few years living in the DC metro area, in northern Virginia to be exact. I was not fond of the area, but one of the bright spots was the incredibly active photographic scene. There were several clubs in the area including the Northern Virginia Photographic Society of which I was a member.
Before I talk about my hopes and wishes for a similar club here in the north Austin area, I want to talk about what NVPS was, what it did in general, and what that meant to me.
First and foremost, NVPS was a social gathering of photographers. Some of use were young, many more were older, many retired (who else has the time to pursue photography so enthusiastically?). The club meets every Tuesday night at 7PM from August until May, baring the occational snow storm or parking lot repaving, at the Dun Lorring fire station in Virginia. On your average night there are 100 to 200 photographers present of all levels. There are true beginners just learning and life long experts who’s skill at producing consistently spectacular images is humbling to witness.
What happens when that many photographers get together every week, week in and week out, is that people go shoot. People print. People compete. The club acts as a catalyst for activity. It does this in many ways besides just drawing photographers together.
There are monthly competitions including both print and digital images. These competitions are judged live with each image critiqued at least basically. This takes time (competition nights were often the longest meetings), but is immensely valuable because everyone, not just the maker of each image, sees and learns what is good and what is bad. Sometimes the judge is a local professional photographer, or a senior member from another club and other times they are nationally known photographers in one genre or another.
Monthly Presentations & Workshops
Each month the club brought in someone to instruct or present work. Sometimes this was a simple instructional session about abstract macro photography or off camera flash and other times it was a presentation of images from a spectacular trip. For example Adam Jones, a Canon sponsored shooter, presented images from a recent trip through Africa.
Monthly Member Forums & Shows
Each month two members were allowed to present their work, one in print form and the other as a digital presentation. This allowed photographers, rightly proud of their work, to share it with the club. It also helped expand the horizons of other club members by exposing them to image and places they would not otherwise have access too.
Regular Field Trips
Club members routinely organize field trips to area locations (sometimes as far as 10 or 12 hours drive away) they are familiar with and then help everyone make their plans. This might be as simple as giving everyone a meeting place and time at a nearby locations to organizing a group hotel rate and carpools to farther locations.
Annual Portfolio Project
Each year a club member organizes a year long portfolio project. They provide guidance to the members participating with several milestones along the way. Portfolios are presented to the club while being critiqued. Even those not participating benefit from the critique sessions.
In addition to these ongoing activities throughout the year, the club also co-hosts with other area clubs a photo expo, Nature Visions. The expo brings in vendors as well as national level photographers (Art Wolf was the keynote the first year I went, and Joe McNally is one this year) to present and offer classes. Vendors demo equipment and software. And there is a juried photo competition judged by several of the national level presenters as well as vendor awards.
All of this activity, even if I wasn’t involved directly, meant that I was pushed to make images worthy of sharing. Even (especially) as a professional, taking the time to make images for myself is hard. The club facilitated that. The monthly competitions alone created the right sort of positive pressure and reward the effort with recognition from peers and judges. Even though the club was primarily amateur photographers, many possessed an eye and skill beyond most other photographers I’ve met. Yet, they were open and eager to share and help others grow.
I talked to some people about my desire to have something like this here in North Austin. I’ve looked and haven’t found it yet. Several other organizations do some photography related activities, but those are usually shows and lack the ongoing weekly social activity. They don’t provide the continual motivation to shoot and learn.
What do I hope NAPfS will become?
One of the great things about NVPS is that it was a stand alone organization with its own charter and governing rules. Each year a board was elected from the membership to run the club. They did so with the help of many club member volunteers (for example, I was one of the tech nerds that solved problems like making sure the computer and digital projector worked for competitions and presenations). The club was not tied to any one person or company.
NAPfS should belong to it’s members and exist independent of any one person or outside organization.
NVPS activities were motivational. They were always designed to help the club members grow. They motivated members to go shoot, to present and then provided constructive criticism to help them and others improve. From competitions (basically a 2 hour critique session) to member presentations (a great chance to do a little show and brag), club activities motivated shooting and sharing.
NAPfS activities should always focus on motivating the membership and helping them grow. Critiques and criticism should always be constructive.
Vibrant & Active
NVPS’s weekly meetings kept everyone involved. Tuesdays were photo nights. That constant continual activity allowed members to plan around the meeting when needed. And each and every week there was a chance to socialize with photographers, and take part in activities about photography.
NAPfS should meet regularly, weekly if possible to create a vibrant and active community of photographers.
NVPS was a club for people living near by. The DC area hosted several clubs, each serving a local community from a few miles around. That made attending easier (if you think Austin has bad traffic, you just haven’t tried driving in DC yet… Austin is a breeze).
NAPfS should meet in the northern Austin area, in Pflugerville or Round Rock in a central locations easily accessed by residents of the area.
That is my vision, but any club that does form is not mine. The vision will have to be expanded and adapted to form a charter for the organization. Before that can happen there has to be a kernel of members willing and able to devote considerable time and effort to boot strapping the club. That is the next step.
Once those members exist, the club would need:
- A Weekly meeting location (hopefully free)
- Some basic equipment (laptop, projector, probably borrowed)
Beyond that, not much else is needed other than energy and commitment.