In 1947, a photographic print club was started in Dick Miller’s camera store in University Village, by Tom Haner, who became the Houston Photographic Society’s first president. The Society met at the camera store until sometime just prior to 1950 when they were forced to move because they had out grown Dick Miller’s store.
During the first years of the Society, there was little money and most of the members used their kitchens as darkrooms. Although they had to scratch for film, chemistry and paper and their darkrooms were far from sophisticated, many fine prints were produced.
The Society faced a major problem with having to move. We could not afford the rent that most of the meeting places wanted. The camera store meeting place was free. The Olsen’s had a building that they were going to tear down and said that they would sell it to the Society if the Society would move it. So ten members of the Society put up $100.00 each for a life membership, and the Society purchased the building and moved it to 2403 Dunstan in University Village, next to the Post Office truck barn. The Society did need to pay rent on the property, but it was leased to us for only $15.00 per month.
Here the Society met for the next thirty five years. The building was used as a club house as well as a studio. Society members could reserve the building, when it was not being used for Society activities, as a photographic studio. Members had to supply their own background paper and lights. The Society did build a dressing room in the back of the building and acquired a few quartz lights. Although the building did not have any plumbing and you had to go down the street to a restaurant for bathroom facilities, it did have a window air conditioner and a propane gas heater. Not the lap of luxury but many a member learned studio lighting here.
There are two activities in which the Society no longer participates. One is an annual print competition, open to all photographers, where the prints were displayed in the stores around the Village area and the public voted on them. The second is an exchange of exhibits with other camera clubs in the Dallas, San Antonio, Beaumont, Port Arthur area and some out of state. It gave the Society a chance to see what other photographers in other parts of the country were doing. The closest we come to this today is the GSCCC competitions, which the membership decided to cease participation in February 2007. Today, HPS participates in a number of community art walks and exhibits.
The main activity, in the early days of the Society, was print night and the critiquing of each others prints. It was an informal tight-knit group of friends. Sometimes as long as thirty minutes was spent on one single print. It would take the group that long to find out what really went wrong. Sometime they would inspect the negative, and then suggest that the print maker give it up. Occasionally the print maker would come back with the same negative and it would be a much better print. Also during this time the photographer not only had to take his own photographs but had to do his own printing.
In August of 1983, the Society was notified that we would have to vacate the land on which the club house stood. The Post Office had purchased the property for expansion of their facility next door. Since there was no available place to relocate the club house, and it was in much need of repair, it was given up and demolished. The Society’s meeting place was then moved to the Bering United Methodist Church in the Montrose area. In early 1987, the rent at the church was going to double so the Society moved again, about five blocks away, to a space in the Watercolor Art Society of Houston building on Montrose near Washington Avenue. This was only a temporary location until a more satisfactory and permanent location could be found. In November of 1987, the Society found a meeting place at 3211 Edloe, at the Camera Doctor. The Society started meeting at this location in January of 1988 and remained there until 1991 when the portion of the building that we used for meetings was leased to a company and we were forced to move again. From here we moved to Bayland Community Center on Bissonet near Hillcroft.
During the years after 1983, the Society’s membership went through a decline due in part to the loss of the club house and the resulting changes in meeting locations. In 1987, however, the Society experienced the beginning of a substantial membership growth. In 1986 the membership was at a low of sixteen people but by January of 1992 the membership had grown to over ninety members. Since then the membership has fluctuated around seventy. Such activities as field trips, workshops, an annual exhibit at the downtown Houston Public Library and a booth at the photo show have all contributed to the growth of the Society.
In 1993, the Society was again forced to move due to construction on the Bayland Community Center. The Society found a new home at the Tracy Gee Community Center located near Richmond Avenue and Beltway 8, on the west side of Houston, where we meet today. Since 1993, several new additions were added to the Society’s activities. Field trips were expanded to include multi day trips to Big Bend National Park and to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. A new print activity was also initiated, called the “Portfolio Review”. This was intended to help educate the membership on what was involved in putting together a quality exhibit and what a photographer might expect as a critique on such a body of work.
The Society’s tradition of print critique has gone through quite a metamorphosis. As mentioned previously, the members, at first, just brought one print (B&W) and the negative which were inspected and discussed with suggestions made. This evolved into entering up to a maximum of two prints in each of two categories, color and B&W, and the prints would be judged by the membership, scored, discussed and ribbons awarded. Today’s print critiques have taken another step. We now have an outside judge(s) (who have credentials in the photographic arena) come in, critique and discuss the prints. Ribbons are awarded.
The Society’s goals are to continue to encourage participation by the membership in our monthly print critique and to increase the Society’s leadership in promoting and encouraging photography as an art in the community.