The problem with Camera Clubs…?
I often see posts on Social Media and various other locations asking the question of whether there is any benefit of joining a Camera Club. Camera Clubs have their place in society, but are they all that special?
A lot of camera clubs, especially in the UK, will fall into at least one of the following categories:
- Focused on competitions.
- Little progressive educational opportunities within clubs to help with improving with photography.
- Focused on guest speakers.
- Average age is stacked towards the older generation.
- Membership is male dominated.
- Meet on a work night with a late finish. (On some occasions, the evening finishes beyond the stated finish time).
- Lack of camera club in the area or the location is not accessible.
- Need to be part of a Clique / Gang.
Let me take each point in turn.
Camera clubs are focused on competitions.
Competitions are very much part of the foundation a lot of clubs. There are some clubs that emphasise less on competitions, but competitions are pretty much part of the parcel. The following points are some observations I have made regarding competitions.
- Some people do not like to see certain types of images, such as Art Nude, Glamour, Boudoir, or pretty much any image that doesn’t suit their style of photography.
- Some do not enter competitions because they are worried about their quality not being a good as anyone else’s and feel intimidated.
- People do not know how to translate critique into feedback and know how to improving on their work.
Little progressive educational opportunities.
It is assumed that people who are in camera clubs have been doing photography for a while and are experts in their field and don’t need to learn any more. This is not true. Experienced members are always continuing to learn. Some members rely on medium such as YouTube, some resort to magazines and books, some go out and learn by trial and error. Everyone has their different learning styles. Camera clubs do need to play a vital role in helping those who are new to photography learn how to use their camera. The main issue that I can see is whether there are people in camera clubs who are capable of teaching, and also whether there are people who are willing to learn.
Other issues that also exist in camera clubs is the different level of experience and skill that exists within the club. How do you provide training that suits everyone? Is there a way to demonstrate if people have taken on board what has been demonstrated? (Competitions is one way, but are there other ways?)
Focused on Guest Speakers.
Not every club focuses on Guest Speakers. Those who do act as guest speakers generally speak on subject matter that does not appeal to every member in the club. The issue that exists for clubs, generally speaking, is the cost of having a speaker. In a club with a reasonable number of members (e.g. 50+), the quality of speaker generally is varied to include a wide range of topics, as budgets are usually there to cover most of the cost. In a club that has a small number of members, the programme secretary has to rely on repeat speakers to talk on the same type of subject year in and year out. Clubs are under pressure to provide a variety of subject matter in order to appeal to its membership. Some clubs, regardless of the size, do not have guest speakers. These are generally few and far in between.
Average age is stacked towards the older generation.
This is a no-win situation. Unless younger members join the clubs, the age of the membership will get older. In some cases, clubs will eventually disappear. I have been a member of a few clubs with a diverse age range. I have found that younger members of the club to be more competitive than the older members, and the older members are generally more willing to help the younger members develop their skills.
Membership is male dominated.
Like with the age of membership, this is a no-win situation. If women join the club, they are either join because of their partner is a photographer, or the female membership are few and far in-between. Before anyone jumps on the bandwagon and say this post doesn’t cover equality, I don’t know how many LGBTQ photographers are members of camera clubs, and I won’t presume they are over or under represented within the camera clubs. However, in my experience, the camera club lacks diversity across the gender divide. Unless all the male dominated membership is taken out, there is little a club can do to draw in new members.
Meet on a work night with a late finish.
This is one of my bigger contentions with camera clubs. They meet on a weekday night, and generally start at 8pm and finish at 10pm. Some clubs over-run by anything up to 1 hour. This is tough for those who work the next day. This would put a few people off wanting to join a club. I don’t know what the right solution would be, other than to suggest holding the club night on a Friday evening or even on the weekend. There are pros and cons to any suggestion that is made. People will say that weekends are the only time they have with their families, some may not be able to attend camera clubs for religious reasons. Also, the cost of hiring the venue may be a lot more expensive on a weekend compared to weekday evenings.
One thing that is generally overlooked is the dynamic lives people lead now. Childcare is expensive, some people work shifts, family circumstances constantly changes. Some people do not have the flexibility to attend camera clubs as often as they wish. Often or not, the days they can attend, the programme may not be to their liking. It’s a difficult challenge that the camera clubs and the potential members face.
Lack of camera club in the area or the location is not accessible.
Sadly, camera clubs are disappearing and due to pressures of cost as well as finding a location that accommodates a wide range of members. This includes those who drive (parking) or use public transport. The other issues with lack of camera clubs is the lack of interest from those who are not currently a member. This comes down to preconceptions that Camera Clubs are for the older generation.
Need to be a part of a Clique / Gang.
When people start to arrive or during the tea breaks, members normally huddle in their usual groups. This can be because of the following reasons:
- Existing members are friends outside the camera club.
- Existing members see new members and see them as the problem for the committee to sort out.
- The membership will see the new member as disengaging and not attempt to break the ice.
- New members can be seen as a threat to the status quo. Existing members fear that new members will do well in competitions and steal their thunder.
The list is endless.
I can use the end of saying, camera clubs need to change or die. Some will, however, do well and attract new members continuously. Some won’t. Camera clubs do try and provide a varied programme to try and attract as much attention as possible. Potential new members who stay the course of the season can try and see how the club runs and try and influence the way the club works in the future. However, potential new members look for what they want right now. They find resources on the internet, Social Media as well as magazines, and shy away from camera clubs. Should camera clubs adopt a style that is adopted on the internet? Fast paced, with both face to face and online presence? If they have an online presence, what content should be presented?
I suspect that camera clubs may have missed the boat in some cases. There are successful clubs that have moved with the times and they will do well. The question is, where do those dwindling go from here?