A Short History of the Shropshire Photographic Society

We have no records of the original date of the founding of the Shropshire Photographic Society. Our best estimate is that it came into being sometime in the period 1875 -1885. At that time the Society had its base in Shrewsbury where many, but not all, the members lived. Although members were drawn from a wide social range the hobby was essentially one for people reasonably comfortably off and having the necessary time.

In the early days excursions were made all over the county, recording a wide variety of subjects. In 1888 a photographic survey was made of the business premises and shops in Shrewsbury and in 1908 the Society presented a collection of photographs to the Shrewsbury Reference Library.

A prominent early member of the Society was Joseph Lewis Della Porta, the son of the founder of the Shrewsbury department store of the same name. He was a skilled photographer and many of his images are in the possession of Shropshire Records and Research,         some of which were loaned for the Millenium Exhibition at Rowley's House in January 2000. He was involved in the early days and development of X-ray photography and did honorary work in this field for the Royal Salop Infirmary.

Like so many other institutions the Society ceased to function during the first world war. It was not reformed until 1922 and within a few months of this restart hosted the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom in Shrewsbury in July of that year.

The accompanying Exhibition was displayed in the Music Hall on July 3rd- 8th and was the first Exhibition under the auspices of the 'new' Society. A catalogue of the pictorial exhibits was produced and a copy is in the Shropshire Records Library. This was second visit of the Convention to Shrewsbury, the Society having previously been host to a similar event in 1895. The President in 1922, Mr. M.J. Harding had been the Society's secretary on the occasion of this earlier visit. Twelve members had work displayed at the Exhibition including the secretary Mr. C.J. Poole and one, Mr. C.E. Franck, won a silver medal.

In the mid 1930's the Society acquired its own rented premises in High Street Shrewsbury , equipped with a darkroom for members to develop films and produce prints.

The Annual Exhibitions of the Society were growing in stature and in 1938 and 1939 they attracted an international entry. The Morris Hall was the venue for these occasions and in both years the judge was Mr. John MacSymon, the Editor of a now long defunct magazine The Camera.

In 1938, 300 prints were mounted, the international entry having come from at least four European countries plus the USA. For the 1939 event invitations were issued and around 200 prints were selected for display out of around 1000 submitted. Entries from overseas came from 19 countries, including the USA, Russia, Honolulu and China. European countries were very well represented.

The activities of the Society continued as best they could during the second world war and once things got back to normal at least one other international exhibition was held.

The Society still had rented premises, in St. Alkmund's Square, where a common room and darkroom were available. It appears that these facilities had been in use in 1939 when they were published as the address of the Society.

The weekly meetings were held at another venue with a greater audience capacity. As more members acquired their darkrooms the need for these rented facilities became less, and together with the need to reduce costs, caused them to be relinquished.

The feature of an Annual Exhibition was maintained after the last war, then changing to the gallery at the library on Castlegates. Several of the Society's competitions were judged at this Exhibition, but the venue was lost when the library was closed for refurbishment.         The competitions were transferred to be a part of the regular Society meetings.

Until 1966/67 the Society included an active 'Cine Section'. However at the start of the next season they went their own way and now exclusively devoted to still photography a new venue was found at College Hill House. A subsequent move took the Society to Gateway Arts Centre where it met until May 2016. Then in September 2016 the Society's meetings started to be held at The Hermitage Centre, behind Belle Vue Methodist Church, in Belle Vue Road, Shrewsbury.

Throughout the Society's history Record photography formed an important element and in the early days almost the entire output of Society members would be work of this nature. In earlier times the limitations of the equipment and materials available precluded many of the subjects that we take for granted today. The Society has always had a record section, and over the years some thousands of photographic prints and negatives found their way, either by donation or purchase, into Shropshire Records and Research. Some of this body of work has come via the Society and some direct from members or their relatives.

Over recent decades electronics have considerably altered the design and function of nearly all cameras, making them easier to use. This factor allied to modern lenses and advances in film technology has made it possible for the hobby photographer to achieve good results in areas of photography previously the realm of specialists. We are now at the start of a digital revolution, both at the taking and print production stages, at present principally the latter.