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On Camera Clubs and the Photographic Arts Group

What Is the Difference, and Where Do You Fit In?
CoPA portfolio reviewers comment on a member's work

Photographers often ask me how CoPA differs from a camera club. As President of a photographic arts group I feel it’s vital to set the proper expectations for new members as to what they will find in, and get from, CoPA.

People look to organizations to fulfill their needs, but no group is the right place for everyone and a group that is trying to do too many things and please everyone will lose its focus and stray from its mission. As the former president of a local camera club and now a leader of CoPA I want to help people understand that camera clubs and photographic arts groups both serve vital niches within the photographic community. Helping people understand what these groups can do for them will aid in their decision about joining a camera club, a photographic arts group, or both.

Some may consider the following comments generalizations, but I think they are accurate for most clubs. However, it’s important to note that groups are unique.

• Some call themselves a “photo club”; others have “camera club” in their name. The difference may be in emphasis – a photo club on the end result and a camera club on equipment.

• It strikes me that camera clubs tend to look inward regarding their photography and membership. Many of their activities revolve around member to member or club to club activities, such as competitions. Contrast this to a photographic arts group, such as CoPA, which directs its activities outwardly in an effort to educate and influence the community’s view of the photographic arts. The fine arts group also tries to compare itself to, and compete against, the best and brightest photographers in the world. This outward focus manifests itself in exhibitions, juried shows, talks, and preparing photographers for major portfolio reviews and giving them the skills to approach galleries.

• Another important difference can be the experience and direction of the photographer in a camera club versus a photographic arts group. The camera club tends to focus on teaching and talking about the basics of photography, learning about equipment, and discovering the “rules” of photography.

• The camera club is a social event, not a networking event. It encourages people to go out on shooting parties and to learn from each other. Consequently, there are few concerns about people coming up with similar images because that’s the point – the more experienced members mentoring those who are eager to learn. The person in a camera club tends to be shooting anything and everything to gain experience and to figure out what they most like to photograph.

• The photographic arts group is about people working to develop their photographic “voice.” They tend to know what they like to do and are intent on expressing themselves through the photographic arts. The photographic artist tends to study arts of all sorts. They know the basics of photography and are constantly working to become better photographers.

• Members of a photographic arts group seldom shoot as a group, but when they do they tend to be shooting widely varying photos of the same subjects since they have already begun to develop their own style and a photographic voice. In a photographic arts group it is understood that people are working on a portfolio and their own body of work. To closely mimic someone else's current work might serve to “water down” that work and undermine the artist. When people feel they have to protect their ideas, they may be less likely to show their work in progress and teach others.

There are other differences: the process of how photos are viewed and “judged” can be telling. Some clubs and regional club competitions look at photos individually and briefly before judging them. Many a photo club competition, which I have been in and judged, is about displaying a photo and having a judge or judges quickly give the photo a score, usually within seconds.

A photographic arts group is more about developing a body of work and establishing a portfolio for purposes of getting into galleries and shows and being noticed by the art world, not to mention selling the work.

I have always thought of the camera club method of judging as encouraging the perfectly executed “noun” – the flower, the landscape, the bird, and images that can be digested quickly. Is that bad? No, of course not, as long as someone who aspires to be a photographic artist understands that “making a winning photo” is more about beautifully mastering the basics rather than making art. The art world is about work that is daring rather than predictable. As the saying goes, “A painter shows you what he painted, but an artist shows you why he painted.”

So where do you fit? In my experience most photographers would easily fit into both. I know experienced photographers in camera clubs who joined for the social aspects, to serve as mentors, and who simply enjoy the activity. While CoPA is primarily a group to advance the photographic artist, we are welcoming to all and will happily help you find the resources you need as you learn and grow. There are many opportunities available in the community for learning about your camera, Photoshop, and the basics of photography, and CoPA is happy to help point you in the right direction. When you are ready to get your name out there and enter into the art world, CoPA will be here for you.

Robb Quinn, CoPA President