Monday, September 1, 2008

The New Camera Clubs

Last week I was out with a group of folks on an event that Scott Kelby put together called the National Photowalk. Not the precise name, but you get the idea. Basically a series of photowalks put on to promote his new book. There were prizes and the promise of fame you could get by being picked the winner.

The local walk was promoted on Flickr, and a majority of the people participating were from the Grand Rapids Flickr group. During the walk, one of the participants asked if Flickr was a camera club.

This was brushed off by someone with a chuckle, "No, of course it's not".

I disagree, in fact this question sort of jelled things up for me. I am a active participant in one of the local camera clubs. I've met a lot of good people there and actually learned things. Do I care for all of the experience? No, but it's more positive than negative. Positive enough that I became a board member to try to change things.

Traditional clubs have photo competitions, educational opportunities, workshops and social gatherings. A lot of what a traditional photo club does is grounded in what they've been doing over the years. There is a major resistance to change, and anything that doesn't fit the "camera club" style is dismissed. Since there haven't been a lot of alternatives, if a person didn't like the club, they either stuck with it or left. It's unfortunate, since it leaves out a lot of good work from a lot of people.

Now let's look at an online group. These allow you to upload photos, have them commented on, and usually have a social interaction via an electronic forum. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Someone is usually available to comment on something or just to chat. Like a traditional club, they have a preferred style of photography. The weakness is that there is usually no local people to go to photowalks with, at least very often. Depending on the site, there are usually educational opportunities and people to discuss them with. Unlike a local club, if you don't fit in with the "style" of the group, it's easy to leave and join another. Also there are usually no monetary or time commitments.

I belong to three online groups, let's look at them.

The first is APUG, or the Analog Photography Users Group. As you could guess by the name, this group is a specialist forum for film based photography. This could be called the traditional style of web groups, with mostly forums. Along with the forums, there are articles written by members, and a classified section. There are regional groups, and sometimes they get together once a year or so. To fully participate in this group there is a fee.

The second is the MWLFA or the Mid West Large Format Asylum. I would place this group as the prototypical regional specialist type of group. Loosely based in the Chicago area, since that is where most of the active members live, they have a mailing list and a forum. They also have monthly outings throughout the area where the members get together. This group charges no fees, though members split costs where needed on outings.

The last and the 900 pound gorilla of the bunch is Flickr. Ostensibly a photo sharing site, there is a huge community hosted there also. While you can use the service for hosting photos to show your friends and neighbors, there is a lot more if you care to explore. There are groups relating to almost anything you want, from specific cameras and even lens to the different colors. There are city and state groups, along with groups for parks. If you can't find a group you want, it is easy enough to start one. If you care to get feedback on your photos, there are critique groups. Note, you're not going to get art school style critiques, Flickr is very democratic. The local group is very active with photowalks and get togethers scheduled all the time.

Like a traditional photo club, the online groups are only as good as the leaders of the group, whether they are elected or not. Also like any other group, you only get out of it what you put into it.

I've wondered for a while why local camera clubs aren't more popular given the resurgence photography is having. I've come to believe that it is a combination of lack of free time for people and the resistance to change in the club. Both of which are not an issue in a 24 hour/7 day a week freewheeling service like Flickr.

I believe that the online forums are the new camera clubs and the traditional clubs will have to become more like them by offering more services, more of the time or wither and die.

1 comment:

Michael Mitchell said...

I think that you have hit the nail on the head. I don't think that this phenomenon is only happining to camera clubs. I think all kinds of people are getting thier "hobby fixes" from some kind of online source/resource.

It has, I'm sure taken a lot of folks away from the traditional club setting because they might not be able the make the Monday meeting because thier kid is playing soccer and has a game that night. After the game they can logon at home and still be involved with something the like to do, maybe not to the extent they could in a traditional kind of organization, but it is a way to be involved.

I can't see clubs completely vanishing from the landscape, because of the face to face interaction some people like, but unless they change with the times they will only get smaller and smaller.