When Ansel Adams issued his famous dictum — “You don’t take a photograph. You make it.” — he had no notion of cellphone cameras, Instagram or even digital photography. In Adams’ day, photography could unquestionably be recognized as an art form, one that combined an artist’s eye with technical knowledge, laboriously practiced in a dark room and displayed in soberly framed black-and-white. But in the late 1960s, unknowns like William Eggleston picked up a newfangled Polaroid camera and broke not only the color barrier but also art photography’s ties to majestic landscapes or carefully lit human forms. The quotidian, the eccentric, the outright bizarre became accepted subject matter, now proliferating exponentially with just a tap of the Upload button.
But the serious photographers who make up the membership of the Carolina Camera Club see no threat to what they steadfastly consider to be an artistic endeavor, even if the darkroom now lives inside computer software. “I believe most people attending our club meetings subscribe to the Ansel Adams approach,” said Shields Flynn, who’s been a member of the Tryon-based club for eight years. “Clearly one must develop a level of knowledge and skill to use some of the more advanced software products, but it’s a lot less expensive than building and outfitting a dark room.”
Indeed, much of the club’s activities strive to teach software skills, seen not as a threat to traditional photography but as a way to help members produce better work. Examples were recently on exhibit at Tryon’s Upstairs Artspace, and can be seen in this month’s annual club show at the Tryon Fine Arts Center.
Like the form itself, the club has adapted to the times since its inception as the Tryon Photographic Society in 1975, when digital photography was still far in the future and members’ photographs were displayed as prints on easels or loaded into a slide projector. But that began to change in the late 1990’s, when the first digital SLRs became an affordable option. “No one brings in slides or uses film now,” said club member Patricia Roshaven. “Club members use all kinds of cameras, some using simple point-and-shoot cameras. But most either have a DSLR or want to have one.” While few rely on their phones’ cameras for club work, Patricia adds, “more and more photos presented at meetings have the look and gritty, off-the-cuff feel of those taken on a smart phone. I admire that kind of creativity and try to achieve that look at times.”
The club’s membership roster has ebbed and flowed with the times, too, from a list of over fifty members in the early 2000’s down to a low of nine loyalists by the end of the decade, perhaps a reflection of the increasingly casual camera phone approach to photography in opposition to the club’s more rigid reliance on a point-based system of evaluating and discussing members’ work, which was the main activity of each meeting. That’s been abandoned in favor of a more informal and educational approach, with a resulting growth in membership to about thirty. “New and younger people have joined,” Patricia said, “making our photography much more diverse and interesting.”
Also abandoned in the club’s transformation was an administrative structure. There are no officers or assigned tasks. “We’ve evolved into a leaderless group without a president, dues, or the usual organizational trappings,” said longtime club member Don Wilson, who began attending meetings in 1994. “We seem a little bit more cohesive.”
Despite the outward changes, the core educational function of the club remains intact. Recent meetings have focused on, among other topics, indoor lighting for portrait photography, framing and matting photographs for exhibition, manipulating digital images shot in RAW format, and comparisons of software applications for post-processing. And while nature photography is still a popular genre, there’s been increasing interest in portraiture, night photography, and the use of macro lenses.
“We have several members who are doing interesting work with collage and special lighting setups,” noted Shields Flynn, who was at first dubious about the club’s current more free-wheeling operation but now sees the club as more dynamic and flexible. “It’s definitely not a social club,” he says. “It’s a group of people with a common interest of wanting to improve their hobby and share their photographic experience. You just need an interest in photography and a desire to improve your skills.”
The club returns from summer vacation in September and meets at 6:30pm on the third Tuesday of the month at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. Anyone is welcome to attend. For more information, visit carolinacameraclub.org.