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The Club Archive
The origin of Sidmouth Photographic Club goes back to when Dr Gerald Gibbens joined a general practice in Sidmouth in 1937; he had many interests, one of which included photography. When out and about visiting patients he would take photographs and he even had a darkroom next to his consulting room; so the idea of forming a club devoted to photography was obvious to him.
The inaugural meeting of what was then called the Sidmouth Camera Club took place on 28th October 1937 at the Commercial Hotel on Fore Street, now the Seasalt shop. The yearly subscription was a modest 5/-. Dr Gerald Gibbens was voted in as Chairman, and so began the story of our club.
By the outbreak of war the club had a respectable 43 members, the population of the town being roughly half what it is today. The programme was extensive and included a lecture on the Kodachrome Colour Process which was cutting edge having been only recently introduced in 1935. Many of the meetings seem to have involved members sharing how they had taken and processed their black and white prints, something we still do in the digital era. Continuing the club in wartime years was problematic due to a scarcity of photographic materials, the blackout, and members being absent serving in the armed forces, including committee members Harold Fish, Gerald Gibbens and Frank Sweetapple. And so confronted with these difficulties, the club decided to suspend activates for the duration of the war. Harold Fish served in the Royal Navy and was the official photographer at the Japanese surrender of Hong Kong in September 1945, it is said, using a camera lent to him by Frank.
In May of 1946 the decision was taken to reconstitute the club at a meeting held at Hope Cottage, now the home of the Sidmouth Museum, and meetings resumed at the Fortes Hotel. Most work at this time was with black & white film though there was interest in colour photography and Donald Barber, having recently become a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, gave a talk on ‘Dufaycolor’, a colour transparencies process. Colour photography was not cheap; a roll of 120 size film for 6 exposures, cost 3s/4d which was over three times the cost of an 8 exposure b&w film, and developing (to colour transparencies) cost another 1s/6d. So, six Dufaycolor transparencies cost a total of 4/10d, around £20 in 2023 money; and Dufaycolor film had a speed rating of around 10ASA! In the 1948 programme one can also see that there was a lot of interest in home cine films.
By 1950 there were 50 members; black and white film and colour slides predominated. At one meeting a member gave a lecture on colour printing, describing a process that took two hours and eight different chemical baths with processing all done in a darkroom! But by 1961 such was the interest in colour printing that a separate colour print section was introduced into club competitions. The process was still difficult so trade processing was allowed. It is worth noting that Sidmouth was probably well ahead of the trend here, as many clubs did not start serious colour printing until the 1970s. Colour slides maintained their popularity and membership was by then over 100.
The 1970s were a very active time for the club. The programme consisted mainly of competitions and members’ slide shows of their holidays and other events, a combination that kept costs down. The club also enjoying winning competitions with other clubs and some had success in having prints accepted for the Western Counties Photographic Federation Members Exhibition which was already well established and continues to this day. The club held a slide show in the Manor Pavilion titled “Round the World” that was attended by over 300 people. Membership reached an all-time high of 126.
Towards the end of the 1970s there began a long term decline in membership across most camera clubs, Sidmouth being no exception. At one point the membership was down to 37 but enthusiasm prevailed and in 1997 the club held an exhibition in the Sidmouth Library to mark the club’s Diamond Jubilee. This was the beginning of the digital era which started with scanning slides and negatives to a computer, enabling them to be enhanced and printed easily and quickly by the photographers themselves. And then came digital cameras and the megapixel race, and finally the capability of producing A3 sized prints. Club evenings now featured lectures on the use of the new digital technology, given by outside speakers and by club members.
The turn of the century saw the deaths of the founding members. Donald Barber died in 2000 at the age of 99 and left a major legacy to the club. Frank Sweetapple and Harold Fish both died in 2002. The first chairman and the founder of the club, Dr Gerald Gibbens, had died in 1989 aged 80.
Over the next twenty years digital photography became the normal, Digitally Projected Images replaced 35mm slides, and the mobile phone became camera of choice for a huge swathe of the population. 2007 saw the club purchasing its first digital projector and laptop computer and by 2010, 35mm slide competitions were no more. The club membership was now increasing steadily to settle at around 50 fluctuating now and then but nevertheless requiring a move to larger premises, firstly from the Dartington Room at Abbeyfield Court to Kennaway House and then to the current venue of the Church Rooms at All Saints Church.
2011 saw the inauguration of the two-way DPI exchange with the Finnish Photograph club in Kouvola, which was extended to include the Dutch club AFVP Etten-Luer in 2012, both these exchanges continuing to this day. By 2012 another new projector and laptop were required and the old ones were sold off. The march of progress required the same again in 2020.
The club celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2017 with a well-received exhibition of over one hundred framed prints at Kennaway House, the exhibition running for one week.
In 2020 the club moved from fortnightly to weekly meetings complemented by a summer programme of trips to provide an all year programme of activities. A number of Special Interest Groups were established to cater for lovers of outdoor photography, printing enthusiasts, for those who are interested in gaining distinctions, and four separate small image critique groups that meet monthly.
Who knows what will happen next as we move into the era of AI.
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