The History of Reflex / Stockwood Camera Club
Reflex originally started out as Stockwood Camera Club. The original chairman, Paul Rowe, recently recorded the events surrounding the creation of the club, and we are delighted to share it here.
This article gives information about the formation and creation of the Stockwood Camera Club which I hope will be of interest to members of the current camera club that replaced it for the digital age. It is by no means a complete history but it contains all the information on its formation and aims, which I hope will be of interest. I would like to take the time to thank all the club members past and present for all their support and faith in the club to have taken us through the early pangs of formation, development and the future due to their love of photography.
It’s really difficult looking back to work out how it all started. Perhaps it’s interesting that the club started with an idea of being somewhere that people who were interested in photography could practice their art or more importantly where people were actively encouraged to take pictures. At the time I was a member of Keynsham Photographic Society and having been a member for some time had made many friends there, it was a great club and one that was dedicated to the then monthly meeting filled with talks, slide shows, club battles for slides and print competitions. On the odd occasion they ran a practical session and this was the catalyst for the formation of Stockwood Camera Club.
For many years I had lived in Brislington, Bristol with my parents in the house that I had been raised in on the top of the hill. Circumstances changed and as council tenants, we were told that we would have to leave and move to smaller accommodation in the new area of Stockwood. My new home was to be on Fontmell Court with my parents; from there I could still travel over the hill to Keynsham so that I could continue my interest in photography.
Whilst at the club one night I was talking to a number of friends about the lack of practical sessions for the club and the limit of there being only one practical session being put into the programme that year. To my surprise I found that I was not alone and they all agreed that it was a shame but wanted to do more practical sessions. I knew that a few of them were unhappy with the clubs committee and wanted an outlet to get away from it so when I suggested that we might form another club I was met with a lot of support.
The decision to set up the club came at a time when photography was in its film heyday. People were taking pictures, prints were everywhere and slides were cheap and easy to produce, indeed home processing and developing was something that everyone did. I looked around for somewhere local to hold our first meetings and found that the local community centre on Sturminster Road was available and we could meet there on a regular basis if we formed a club. Our first meeting was little more than a discussion with the people who wanted to take part; no more than half a dozen people attended so that we could form a committee and discuss the aims of the club.
From the outset it was obvious that the main aim would be to have lots of activities on club nights where we actually took pictures and the club would develop with that strong aim in mind. Everyone was really keen for the club to get off the ground and within weeks we had further meetings at my house to thrash out the rules and regulations, plan some advertising to promote the club and set up a timetable of meetings together with a membership fee that would attract people to attend and pay for the room that we were hiring.
On each club night (we met initially) we would also ask people to give a little contribution towards the room hire and on nights when we planned practical sessions if models attended we gave some money so that they could be paid for their modelling services for our portrait sessions. We looked at outings and other events so that we could expand the club should it really take off so that trips out could take place.
As many of us were still members of the Keynsham Photographic Society it was interesting that they did not see the new club as a problem, in fact we were supported a great deal by them to allow us to grow as they felt we were adding something new to the mix of photography and they did not see us as competition at all. Stockwood Camera Club was now formed and we were gaining new members from adverts in “Practical Photography Magazine” and postcards in the windows of local shops.
Each year the club grew in support and the funds continued to fill the bank account that we had prepared for the accounts. Within a few years we had not only grown as a club, but become a member of the Western Counties Photographic Federation. Guest speakers came to us and slide battles commenced with other clubs but we always maintained the ethos of practical sessions being the main focus (no pun intended) of the clubs activities.
It should be noted that at this time, glamour, topless or nude photography was deeply frowned upon and we could not run such nights due to restrictions by the community centre. This in a way lead to a move to a bigger room in the centre of Stockwood. This lead to more members joining the club and a regular programme of events taking place. As the club expanded, so too the committee grew, from three up to eight members with plenty of time taken to plan out new events, competitions, outings and club nights. Established in the WCPF, we also took time to visit other clubs and network about working together on projects with other like-minded photographers.
Many of our members were producing really high quality work at this stage so we encouraged them to submit pictures to competitions in national magazines and even the Bristol Salon of Photography. As a club we had grown from humble beginnings and expanded to a force to be recognised in the Bristol area renowned for quality photographic work.
As part of the expansion of the club, sections were formed to work on the specific areas of photography that people wanted to do. We created groups focused on monochrome printing, colour slides and colour printing. This helped members to be able to present their work in standards that were suitable for inclusion in competitions and for them to mount their slides in glass to enable them to be used for club competitions.
The committee continued to work to expand the club, keeping promotion to the front but we recognised that the club was growing somewhat faster than expected and the numbers attending meetings on a monthly basis forced us to consider meeting on a more regular basis of two meetings a month. On the practical side the accommodation that we were using at the time was falling short of what we needed and the hunt was on for a more suitable location to base the club.
As chance would have it we were given a great opportunity with, by a discussion that took place with a number of new members told us of a location that would be suitable to convert into a permanent clubroom. The only difficulty was that the location for this would be in the centre of Bristol on Cumberland Road and that the club would need to change its name to allow us to use the facilities at a reduced rent. And so it was that Stockwood Camera Club and P & O Camera Club joined together to form the new Stockwood and P & O Camera Club. With the base away from Stockwood itself we did lose a few members but what we gained was something that many clubs of the time did not have, that being a base of operations.
The new clubroom was a bare old building with toilets and a massive safe store which was in the past used by customs officials. Besides this, it had a small and very large room that was suitable to take over 30+ people. Work started on the project with help from lots of people giving up their time and materials to strip, prepare, paint and donate items to get the place operational for the first meeting. The Safe room was converted into a fully equipped darkroom for members with stacks of paper, three durst enlargers and a large table for printing baths to process up to 20” x 16” prints, together with Safelights, Paper Storage and chemicals for all to use.
The small room to a general room for committee meetings, library of magazines, books and club materials for use by all as a quiet study room. The final transformation was the conversion of the main room with a considerable number of stackable chairs for meetings and the putting up of blackout curtains for projection nights and a twin paper backdrop system (ceiling mounted, no less) for activity nights. The committee also raised funds by hiring out the meeting room for studio shoots with models.
The arrangement with P&O lasted for a number of years and many good times were had at the old customs building on Cumberland Road, but with economic changes we were forced to close when larger rents were imposed by the landlords. The club moved back to Stockwood, changed its name back to its original and after a year or so I left the club and had no further contact, leaving the running of the club to a new committee. I can say that in the time that it was running the club actively encouraged so many people that we worked with to take great pictures and enjoy being a member of a club. It’s so nice to see that the same ethos of the original aim of the club is still going by its worthy successor
I hope you all enjoyed reading this and now know a little more about the history of the club and its origins.
Best wishes and happy imaging to you all.
Paul Rowe, former chairman of Stockwood and P&O Camera Club, formerly Stockwood Camera Club.