Over the past four or five years, I've had the pleasure of visting many photographic clubs throughout Scotland to give talks on my photography. It's an immensely enjoyable experience to present to an audience (once you get over your initial nerves of doing so) and I often find the process gives me a chance to appreciate what it is that I do, and how much others can gain something from the presentation.
I think photographic clubs are great venues for people of all abilities and levels of interest to attend. I would say that although most clubs differ in some subtle ways, they are full of social people who like to meet others.
I feel that it's often easy to feel daunted by the effort to visit a club where you do not know people and where you may feel like an outsider upon initial contact. But every photographic club I've been to, is really eager to get your attendance. The sad truth of the matter is that they find it hard to attract members. When I meet club secretaries and chair people, they are often selfless in their aim to keep the club going. Often having to organise day out events, inter-club competitions, presentations and it's very time consuming for them to keep looking for speakers to their clubs as this is often done as a part time activity outside of their working lives.
The thing that strikes me most about every photographic club I've visited, is that there are usually not many young members there. By young, I mean 30 year olds. If I didn't know better, I would take the demographic of most clubs as an indication that photography is of interest to people who are more advanced in their years and that photography is not of interest to people in their teens, 20's or 30's. However, this is not the case. Photography is going through one of the biggest growths in interest it's seen ever. Everyone has a camera these days and cameras have become so cheap and ubiquitous, that people of all ages have the kinds of image capture quality at their disposal that a 17 year old in the 80's would have dreamed of.
So why are clubs failing to attract members?
I think there are many reasons for this. Firstly, with the availability of high quality information available now on the internet, a lot of budding photographers are staying at home and finding and sharing ideas through websites, blogs and forums. I also would dare to suggest that since photography is a predominantly male activity (yes, women like it too), a lot of men would prefer to find out information on a forum than attend a club. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a lot of people assume that clubs can or are very competitive and that you may have to be very good to be a member.
I find this a real shame. Because clubs are excellent places to meet others who like photography in your neighbourhood. It's very hard to find others who share the same interests in photography because by nature, photography is a solitary activity.
Through my own workshops, and even my two book launches where I had around 20 workshop participants attend, I found a few of them established friendships and continue to go out together to make photographs when they can find time in their professional lives. I know of three participants for instance, who met at my two book launches who I sometimes meet up with (Hi Joe, Niall, Omer!).
Photographic clubs are keen to have people come along and join. Many of them have been going for decades and have been run by very friendly and supportive people where the club is everything to them, and without it, they would feel a hole in their lives. I think by attending clubs, you can only benefit. It's just a case of trying a few out to find one that feels right for you.
By the way, I have been a member of Midlothian photographic club for a few years. I haven't attended in the past year because of work commitments, but I will be going to see them on March 18th 2014 to give a talk, and to catch up with the members. It's been a while since I saw them last, but there are some special characters to this club (which is perhaps one of the reasons why I joined in the first place).
If you're considering joining a club, or feel a little daunted by going along to one, what might be a good idea is to offer to come along and give a talk on your own photography. It will help the clubs by introducing new speakers to their yearly syllabus, and it will also benefit you also by getting to visit the clubs and find out more about them, and whether they are right for you and what you are looking for.