More than 35 years ago I entered a competition in one of the UK’s best-known amateur photographic magazines and a part of the prize was a year’s membership of the Royal Photographic Society. It wasn’t this that had attracted me but the other part of the prize, although I can’t at this distance remember whether it was a largish supply of Kodachrome, a new camera or whatever.
At the time I knew very little about the RPS, but a year’s membership along with the magazine and attending one or two meetings convinced me that it was something I wanted to have as little as possible to do with, a society of the self-important who in the main seemed to have little real interest or knowledge about photography. At the end of the year I didn’t renew my subscription.
Getting to know some of its leading members over the following few years did slightly change my views; there were a few who were leading experts in particular technical or historical fields, but as a society it did seem totally out of touch with photography, living in its own separate world which the rest of us thought had ended around the First World War.
The one jewel was of course the collection and I still remember the shock of sitting at a bar with half a dozen former, current and future presidents and hearing them bemoaning it as a curse hanging around their necks which they were unable to sell off. Now of course it is at the Bradford museum.
I never saw the point of its qualifications, other than as a way of adding to the society’s funds. I was several times urged by leading members to put forward a panel, with one FRPS in particular agreeing with me that qualification was a joke but assuring me it would help my career – as it had his.
I had great misgivings about the Images of England project which the National Monuments Record Centre, the public archive of English Heritage ran from 1999 to 2008 with the cooperation of the RPS, involving over 320,000 photographs of listed buildings in England taken by volunteers. It seemed a very good idea in some ways, but as someone who has done a considerable amount of photography of buildings it did appear to be taking an awful lot of bread out of the mouths of those of us in the trade.
Now they are at it again, and the RPS “Visual Journalism group have created a partnership with one of England’s major tourism bodies“, Southwest Tourism, to provide free photos for a nationwide advertising campaign to promote tourism in the south-west of England.
On his blog photographer Pete Jenkins asks if it is fair or ethical and suggests someone should stop this madness now.
RPS member David White on the duckrabbit blog suggests a number of alternative expansions of RPS, the most appropriate of which is perhaps ‘Rights Plucking Shysters‘, because as he writes “Not only do they not want to pay any money but the don’t even guarantee the photographer will be credited. The even demand rights to sub licence the images to third parties!”
You may be able read the details from the RPS site, although while I was writing this post the PDF appears to have disappeared and a site search for ‘Southwest Tourism’ produces no result. I do hope they are having second thoughts.