Brief History of Banbury Camera Club by Isabel Smith

(Based on a short talk given by Isabel at an Open evening in 1989)

The Banbury and District Camera Club, as it was first known, was founded in 1946 by a group of about twenty enthusiastic photographers, the aim being, as it is now, to bring together all those interested in photography and to improve the standard of amateur work in the district. The first meetings were held in Mr. Norman Blinkhorn’s studio, or in the ironmongery shop of Mr. John Gardner at the corner of Parsons Street and Church Lane. Other founder members were Mr. Harold Jones, of the wine vaults in High Street, and Mr. E.F. Bellingham who was head of the colour printing department of Henry Stone and Son in the Swan Close area.

The earliest meetings consisted of talks and demonstrations by members, quizzes and shows of members’ prints and films. In 1948 a room was rented in a basement in West Bar where a club room and darkroom were fitted up. I joined the club about this time and my earliest recollections are of the roaring fire which helped to combat the dampness of the basement, and the awe and respect with which I regarded those expert photographers who produced such wonderful and painstaking prints!

The West Bar premises were given up in 1951 and the club met in various places including the Public Library until 1952 when we moved to 51 The Green, then the School of Art. Accommodation varied as the use of the building changed, at first having our own darkroom cum clubroom and a room to use as a studio, but finally finishing up with one meeting room once a week. However, thanks to good relations with the Director of Education, we hung on to that room until 1984, the great benefit being that we only paid for the lighting (the heating was just what was left over from the daytime heating so it was sometimes pretty cold), and sometimes not even that. So it was with considerable dismay that we learned that the building was being sold and that we would have to find somewhere else.

Meeting places then, as now, were very expensive and, in addition, we needed somewhere to store the equipment we had acquired over the years. Finally we wound up in our present home in Banbury School, the School authorities being very cooperative in finding storage space and at first charging a low fee. However, things have changed, as you probably all know, and have been put on a more “realistic” footing. Even so, to be fair, we probably pay no more than we would have to pay elsewhere, and at least we have our storage space, a room well heated, and cooperative caretakers! By the way, the club subscription started at one guinea in 1946 (£1.05p), and the membership has varied from as low as eight or nine to as many as 50+.

Now let’s have a look at some of the club’s activities over the years. In the fifties and early sixties there were public exhibitions, well attended by the public and officials such as the Mayor and the local MP, shows by Gevaert and Kodak were held on several occasions (we did the organising and they provided the entertainment), and from 1965 till 1973 the club gave their own public shows consisting of three, four or five short audio-visuals. These were hard work but great fun and kept members interested in taking photographs, writing scripts, and putting them together with music to make a short show. However, as many other organisations in the town also found out, audiences declined and costs increased, so these public presentations ceased.

We took photographs for the North Oxfordshire Technical College prospectus, and also did some work for the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. For several years, between 1963 and 1977, we ran an Open Colour Cup Competition, but here again costs became prohibitive and we had to stop. We also mounted exhibitions and showed films at the Rugby Club Fête held every August. In 1969 we designed and made a “dissolve” unit which enabled slides to flow into each other without a break with the use of two projectors. This involved one screen, two identical projectors carefully focused to coincide exactly, two projectionists who changed the slides manually (no remote controls then!), a “mastermind” who organised the appearances of each slide, and a sound technician who operated our old reel-to-reel tape recorder. A far cry from the highly technical equipment used today. This technique was shown to the public in 1970.

Around 1960 the club had three sections – black and white, colour slide, and cine, each section having evenings devoted to its particular interest, but it was found too difficult to organise a suitable programme, and in 1963 the cine section formed a separate club.

One of the most interesting projects was the production of a 6 ft. by 4 ft. portrait of the Mayor. This was all done on the clubroom on the top floor of 51 The Green from a 4 cm by 4 cm negative – taking the picture (when the Mayor, Miss Gwen Bustin, arrived with the Macebearer carrying the robes and regalia), enlarging the negative on a large sheet of photographic paper pinned to the wall, developing the print in a “dish” made from 4 in. x 4 in. wood lined with plastic (thank goodness it didn’t leak or the college authorities would have had something to say), fixing the print in the same dish with members gathered round with large sponges to keep the agitation going, the print finally being taken home rolled up in the leg of my husband’s pyjamas to wash in the bath. For a short time this portrait was hung over the stairs in the Town Hall, but it mysteriously disappeared about 1984.

Other projects have been the production of a short film and a longer slide show on the history of Banbury. This slide show has been given at many clubs in the area and contains some quite irreplaceable slides of old Banbury. It is still being kept up to date, and we hope to produce another version from a slightly different angle. Banbury is in a continual state of change and we must keep a record of what has been as well as any worthwhile new developments.

From 1963 the club ran a biennial Open Colour Cup Competition open to photographers residing within 25 miles of Banbury. This was very popular, attracting from 300 to 400 entries, but it was abandoned in 1978 and the cup was never returned.

Other club activities have been outdoor meetings during the summer to places of photographic interest in the neighbourhood, outdoor social evenings such as barbecues, treasure hunts, bonfire nights and cheese and wine parties. The Annual Dinner was first held in 1963, when it cost 13/6! Most years we hold “battles” with other clubs in the neighbourhood, and there are annual competitions for silver cups. The first of these, the Beechcroft Cup, was presented by Mr. Bob Hutt, a farmer from Byfield, who felt that there were many slides taken on club outings that were never shown to the club. It is presented annually for the best colour slide taken at a club outing or evening. In 1967 Mr. Jim Church presented a cup for the best black and white print taken on similar occasions, and in the same year the Mayor, Mr. Eric Wordsworth, gave a cup for the best black and white print taken in the year because, as he said, “My wife has so much enjoyed being a member of the club.” Other cups are the Alcan Shield for the best colour print, the Club Colour Cup for the best colour slide, the Brantwood Cup for the best colour print from a club event, and the F–Stop and the Bodicote Trophies for work done over the year. Our most recent trophies are the Jack Keen Cup for the best colour enprint and the John Saunders Cup for photojournalism.

Over the fifty years of its existence the club has followed its original aim of bringing together all those interested in photography and has tried to keep up with the latest developments.

Postscript by Andrew Spackman (1998)

At Isabel’s request I have added a section about recent developments. The two which occurred to me were the print and slide review evenings, and digital imaging, though the first of these is not quite as new as I had thought, for I see that we introduced the review evenings as long ago as October 1992. But they form a distinctive element of our programme and one which was introduced at Bruce Carter’s suggestion to provide a quite different forum from the normal competitions. They might be described as conversations about photographs, or print appreciation, rather than print judging, for we break into small groups to discuss pictures which members have brought for comment or advice.

Digital imaging is a development which has really taken off in the past twelve months, encouraged by the decision at the 1997 annual general meeting to allow digitally processed images in the club’s colour print competitions in 1997/8. The club organised a demonstration by an expert in the field, Colin Robinson from Deddington, and followed this up with a workshop to process and print members’ photographs which had been transferred to Kodak Photo CD disks. In the five monthly competitions of the 1997/8 season there were 55 colour prints entered, compared with 35 in the previous year. Of those 55 prints well over half (34) were digital images, all processed on computer and printed by the entrants. Like other photographic societies and clubs, we can expect Banbury to support and encourage both traditional and new photographic techniques over the coming years.