Photographic Society celebrates 75 years 

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‘Fireline’ by Lenuta Quraishi, February 2020.

IT’S a happy 75th birthday this month for the Canberra Photographic Society,
as it celebrates a lifetime of snapping people, places and events around the developing national capital.

Proof apparent of its vigour came earlier this year with the searing photographs of the bushfire-devastated region taken by society members, who continue to document the territory and the wider world.

As recently as July this year, society member Judy Parker won the $10,000 Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize at Magnet Gallery in Melbourne. She is one of many in the group to have been honoured.

Opening of New Parliament House, May 9, 1988. Photo Brian Rope.

Certainly there have been other photography clubs in the Canberra region.

The first was the Monaro Camera Club, which grew out of the Queanbeyan Colour Photography Society and the Queanbeyan Leagues Club Camera Club and eventually threw its lot and its equipment in with CPS.

There have also been the Southside Camera Club, U3A Camera Club, ANBG Friends Photographic Group, Canberra PhotoConnect and a host of photography groups on social media.

But none can boast the membership numbers or the longevity of the Canberra Photographic Society, which dates back to a meeting in the 2CA Theatrette in Mort Street on September 11, 1945.

“The Canberra Times” of September 12, 1945, reported that the initial meeting “decided to form a club to be known as the Canberra Photographic Society. It was to hold regular meetings, show screenings of different films and discuss photographic matters generally… Meetings will be held on the first Tuesday and at the initial meeting a colour film of Canberra, as well as talkies, would be shown”.

Then on October 3, the paper reported that at the first gathering on Tuesday, October 2, “Some excellent landscape studies, prints of child studies and views of the War Memorial floodlit, as well as flares on VP night, were exhibited, when a coloured picture of Canberra was screened along with views of New Guinea. Arrangements were made for a “photographic outing on Sunday week”.

The society was up and running, moving its headquarters from the 2CA Theatrette to the Institute of Anatomy, the Riverside Centre and at last the Griffin Centre in Bunda Street, where it remains.

Hedda Morrison at the opening of her retrospective, speaking with then senator Gary Humphries and a guest.

Member and former president, Brian Rope, has researched CPS activities during its early years and found evidence of prizes won by society members at competitions far away from Canberra. As well, he saw, during the mid-1970s, the group conducted several national exhibitions of photography, receiving hundreds of entries from all over Australia.

In November 1983, the celebrated British photo-journalist Joan Wakelin presented a lecture jointly for the Monaro Camera Club and CPS. Wakelin was one of several notable women photographers to have given presentations to CPS over the years. Others were British garden photographer Helene Rogers and German-born documentary photographer Hedda Morrison, who had settled with her husband Alastair Morrison and after whom CPS named one of its prizes.

In 1987 the society was responsible for selecting local amateurs’ photographs for use in the Australian Bicentennial Exhibition and members had images selected, which toured Australia during 1988 as the “Personal Views” element of the show.

During the bicentennial year, 1988, members covered almost every event here and took 6,000 images, from the opening of the new Parliament House and the Queen’s visit through to modest events, all recorded in the exhibition “Bicentennial celebrations in Canberra” opened at the Link Gallery by politician John Langmore. The prints from the exhibition were later handed over to the ACT government, which subsequently lost them.

In 1995, to mark the society’s 50th anniversary, a retrospective exhibition, “100 by 50”, was held in the foyer of the High Court, then in 2001, the society published its “Achievers Book, 1989-2000”.

Royal Race Meeting, 1988. Photo Brian Rope.

Over the years a number of sub-groups have been formed under its aegis, including a group which used the facilities of a professional studio in Fyshwick, and a theatre group which produced front-of-house images for many opening nights.

Twice during its 75 years, Rope says, the society has undergone turbulent times and endured controversy, especially to do with the manipulation of image in portfolio entries, but the society continues to thrive, now under the presidency of scientist Marwan El Hassan.

Photographs by members may be viewed at cpsgallery.smugmug.com and inquiries about membership to enquiries@cpsaus.org

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