The PhotoGroup history
Hover mouse over a photo for caption information.
In 2021 the Chiltern Society PhotoGroup (PG) is planning its future, post Covid-19, so it’s useful to take another look at its history. Since its formation in 1990 the Group has changed policy a few times and sometimes had a bumpy relationship with the Chiltern Society’s Executive.
The original aims of ‘The Photographic Group’ were to record the Chiltern scene, to hold exhibitions and to maintain a pictorial library. They haven’t changed but have been interpreted in different ways over more than 30 years. Recording the scene originally meant photographing subjects in towns that were likely to disappear in a hundred years. So members were advised not to photo churches, old pubs and thatched cottages but to concentrate on High Street newsagent shops, pedestrian crossings, tower blocks, snack bars, bus stops, car parks “and any other disfigurements of modern development”. It was hoped members would get some satisfaction from passing on a little history, not pretty pictures.
It doesn’t look as though this advice lasted for long as early Newsletters soon recognised that the Chiltern Society needed “photos of local personalities, events, ancient monuments, water courses and of course landscapes”. Collections of slides, prints and even 8mm films taken by enthusiast pioneers such as Frank Mitchell, John Morgan, Frank Ghysens and Maurice Wooller FRPS were donated. (Type their surnames in the website Search Box and you will see a good selection of their pictures taken in the 1950s and 60s.) Projects were encouraged: they were limited to 20 slides and payment was offered for film used.
By 1996 there had been a name change to “PhotoGroup” and relations with other Chiltern Society Groups such as Rivers & Wetland, and Rights of Way had been established. Saturday morning meetings had started and a Newsletter photo shows the 10 members who attended the first of these. In October 1996 there is the first mention of the internet: the Society had around 12 pages and there was talk of including Chiltern railway timetables . . .
At about this time the PG decided to join the Chiltern Association of Camera Clubs. Members soon found themselves in competition with photo enthusiasts from local clubs but there is no further reference to this in Newsletters. Perhaps this is the origin of the policy that the PG is different from camera clubs.
Meanwhile exhibitions had been organised since 1994. The first was at the Chiltern Open Air Museum in Newlands Park and 50 prints from members were shown. Annual exhibitions continued at COAM until 1998. The exhibition then moved to Watford Museum for a few years, with typically 50 prints from about a dozen authors.
In 1998 a poll of Chiltern Society members put PhotoGroup bottom in popularity of Groups. Action was needed and the PG was asked by the Society to participate more closely with other Groups. Perhaps more significantly the PG started to digitise its collection and by 2002 CDroms were available for members to borrow.
The first outdoor meetings were held in the summer of 2002. Outings enabled members to photograph specific locations and to socialise at a pub lunch which proved to be popular.
By 2004 work had started on developing the PG’s website, entirely separate from the main Chiltern Society one. This led to friction between the Society’s General Secretary who objected to the whole idea and the PG’s chairman. The Society went as far as getting legal advice and there was talk at the PG about doing a Rhodesia-style UDI. A compromise was eventually agreed: the PG’s website went ahead but its content would be subject to some controls.
So in March 2004 the PG website opened and at last members had easy access to many of the photographs in the library. The first results from an outing (to Gaddesden) were published in a location album and in the autumn the first online Exhibition of just 39 pictures was held.
In the next years photos taken by members on outings and on projects were added to the website in considerable numbers and by 2020 the PG had by far the largest collection of Chiltern photos online: approaching 8,000. Since 2008 the PG has been generating useful publicity for the Society by sending press releases about its new albums to the local media. The online Exhibition grew from 178 pictures from 13 contributors in 2010 to over 300 photos ten years later.
The history of the PhotoGroup in more recent times can be seen in the introductions to albums that include dates and the ‘What’s new’ section.
The fascinating early PG Newsletters from 1996 to 2010 were printed. Many of them included general information about photo subjects for members’ enlightenment. You can read them here.