The war years were a difficult time for photographers and for photography in general. New cameras and other equipment were unobtainable; any equipment that was being manufactured in Britain and the U.S.A. was strictly to be used "for the war effort". The fact that contacts had been severed with both Germany and Japan, the two main producers of quality cameras, compounded the problem. Some second-hand pre-war cameras could occasionally be obtained, but on the whole people owning such equipment tended to keep it. Supplies of film and other photographic materials were also in very short supply. Any materials that were available, were, of course, monochrome. The first 35mm. colour films had been introduced by Kodak and Agfa in 1936 but these did not again appear on the market here until after 1948.
When the war with Japan finally ended after the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945, a group of Dublin photographers got together and decided that there was a need in the city for another camera club. The long established Photographic Society of Ireland was located in Dublin, and although some of the new club's founders came from that organisation, it was felt that standards prevailing there were too high to attract those starting in photography.
Letters were sent to the various Dublin newspapers proposing the establishment of the new club. These appear to have been greeted with enthusiasm, as advertisements appeared later announcing the inaugural meeting which was to be held on November 5th in the old Jury's Hotel in College Green at 8 p.m.
The meeting took the form of a monochrome lantern slide lecture by Harry Braine on a trip through pre-war Holland, Belgium and Germany. Harry Braine was probably the most talented of the early founder members, having exhibited widely before the war, winning many awards. He had also mounted a one-man exhibition of candid stage photographs of such notables as Jimmy O’Dea and Noel Purcell in a gallery on St. Stephen's Green. The continental trip had, in fact, been a prize won in a pre-war photographic competition. The meeting attracted a large audience who, presumably, were interested in seeing the countries concerned as they had been before being almost destroyed in the recent conflict. Also, foreign travel was not as widely practised then as it is now and it had obviously been impossible during the war years.
From the new club's point of view the meeting was a great success, over twenty people signed up as founder members of the Dublin Amateur Camera Club as it was originally called. The first president was James Wilson with Aloysius Kane as Honorary Secretary and Harry Braine as Vice President.
The annual subscription was ten shillings (approximately 70c in today's currency) and initially meetings were held monthly at various city-centre venues such as Jury's Hotel, Hyne's Restaurant and sometimes even in Harry Braine's garage in Drumcondra (Harry was a motor trader). The aims of the Club, as outlined by Aloysius Kane, were mutual encouragement, practical demonstrations and social functions.
The inclusion of the word "amateur" in the Club's title was later, for some members, a bone of contention. It was felt generally, however, that professionals and advanced amateurs were being well catered for by the Photographic Society of Ireland, and that the D.A.C.C. should only cater for amateurs and beginners.
The present Dublin Camera Club is, at least, the third organisation of that name to have existed in the city. The earliest of which we have knowledge seems to have been that founded in the early years of the twentieth century and which probably disappeared at the start of the first World War. This was a very unsettled period in Dublin's history and was not an easy time for organisations catering for pastimes and hobbies. People had more important things on their minds!
The second Dublin Camera Club was the brainchild of William Harding a journalist and editor of The Camera, a magazine then being published in Dublin. The club was an offshoot of the P.S.I. and commenced operations in 1922. Its first president was Alfred Werner, a wellknown Dublin portrait photographer and included among its members the famous Father Browne. Some of the founders of the present club were also members. This Dublin Camera Club was amalgamated with the P.S.I. in the early 1930s.
The present Club acquired its first premises, in early 1946, in the basement of 40 Upper Mount Street. This contained a lecture room, a studio and an "enlarging room". Although the rent was only £1 per week, initially it was necessary for three, presumably affluent, members to entirely subsidise it.
Harry Braine assumed the office of President at the beginning of 1947. His continental slide show had been so popular that it was repeated several times during the first year. On each showing the Club received an influx of new members. In fact, so many new members were joining it was felt necessary, at the end of 1946 to limit the membership to one hundred and the subscription was raised to £1 (approx. €1.40).
In August 1946 it was decided to hold the club's first exhibition. The size of prints, monochrome only, was to be limited to whole-plate (6.5 x 8.5 inches) and members were confined to four prints each. This was obviously to encourage beginners. The club was suffering from the problem most new camera clubs starting up are inclined to have, the variation in quality standards between the most advanced members and the recently joined novices – usually the bulk of the membership at this early stage of the club's history).
The Club's newsletter Focus began to be published monthly in October 1946. Unfortunately one of the first reports in it states that the closing date for entries to the exhibition was to be extended from October to November, probably a sign of lack of interest.
The exhibition finally took place early in 1947 and as it was held at the Club premises in Mount Street it cannot have been a very large affair. Unfortunately no records survive of details of exhibits, or of awards, if any. However it was a start.
This was still only a year after the war's end and equipment and materials were still in very short supply. In view of this, one very welcome gift received by the Club during the first year must have been the enlarger presented to it by Peter Slattery, the original proprietor of the well known camera shop still bearing his name, and who had become a life member. One could do this in those days by paying the equivalent of ten years subscription – £10. Peter deserves a vote of thanks, not only from our club, but from the Irish camera club movement in general for the encouragement, in the form of gifts and lectures presented by him to most of the new clubs founded in Ireland during his lifetime.
As far as most members were concerned, the most common type of camera in the Club appears to have been the humble Kodak folder or something similar. A lucky few probably had pre-war Zeiss Ikontas or even Super Ikontas. Early model Rolleiflexs could occasionally be obtained but were expensive. All of these cameras, of course, used 120 or 620 size roll film (6cm. square or 6cm. x 9cm.).
Anyone attempting to use 35mm was inclined to be derided as not being a real photographer. This attitude was widespread at this time, not only in Ireland but generally, and particularly in America. The present writer distinctly remembers, as late as the early 1960s, the most popular cameras in the Club were the Rolleiflex and the Rolleicord. 35mm. was not really accepted until the use of colour film in that size became more popular and the various clubs began to organise competitions for colour slides during the 1960s. It should be remembered, of course, that large and medium format colour transparencies had been appearing in pre-war club competitions from the early 1930s. Good quality colour prints had yet to arrive on the scene.
The shortage of photographic materials during the 1940s seems to have spawned a whole series of tall tales. One of which was the story told about the German prisoner of war in the North who sold a Leica to a local inhabitant for 2/6 (about 17 cents!). Other similar stories told of Germans exchanging Leicas and other cameras, for packets of cigarettes. One rumour, however, did persist. This was about the new colour film being developed by Gevaert who were a Belgian firm, later to be taken over by Agfa. Interest in this was understandable as the only films generally available then were monochrome.
In 1947, outings began to play a significant part in the Club's activities. They were usually confined to places either in or around the city, not many members having cars. Typical outings during this year were to the Zoological Gardens and Dublin airport, something of a novelty for most people at the time.
The eagerly awaited new colour film from Gevaert finally arrived on the Irish market in February 1948. It was a reversal film for slides and was similar to the pre-war Agfacolor. It was available in 120 size as well as in 35mm and strangely was initially only available in a tungsten or artificial light type which had to be used with a filter in daylight. A daylight version of the film was introduced later.
The Club's second exhibition was held in April 1948 and was also at the club premises in Upper Mount Street. This time, however, there was no restriction on print sizes. The concept of monthly competitions, as today's members know them, did not exist at this time, these were first held in 1949. Various competitions were, however, held in the Club during the first few years. The awards for these tended to be of money or photo materials presented by Peter Slattery and other photographic dealers.
The Club lost one of its bulwarks in 1949 with the untimely death of Harry Braine. A trophy in his memory was presented to the Club by his family and for many years was awarded for the best pictorial print in the Annual Exhibition.
The first Annual Dinner to be organised by the Club was also held in 1949, at the C.I.E. Club Theatre in Marlborough Street, immediately after the close of the Annual Exhibition that had been held at the same venue. This location was used several times for the exhibition, the Club having influence with C.I.E. in the person of Bob McElheron who worked there. Bob was president in 1955 and his name is perpetuated in the Club by the cup that he presented for the Outings Competition and is now used in the Summer Competitions.
The exhibition in1949 was the first to have sections such as Portraiture and General. It also was the first to attempt to divide the membership into grades of proficiency. There was "Class A" which was open. "Class B" was open to all except those who may have previously won awards in the D.A.C.C. or other clubs. "Class C" was limited to those who had joined the Club since August 1948. The catalogue for this exhibition, a typewritten duplicated affair, states that the membership was still limited to one hundred, and that there was a waiting list of twelve.
During those early years of the Club's existence it was usual for it to close during the summer months, however since 1950 the policy has been to remain open the whole year round. 1950 also saw the introduction of a grading system to protect less proficient members. The membership was divided into three groups: "A", "B" and "C'', probably based on the divisions as practised at the 1949 exhibition.
The Club moved premises to 60 Lower Baggot Street in 1951, this was also a basement where it was to remain for the next 39 years. The period at Baggot Street was one of growth and evolution. In 1951 the Club had a membership of a hundred, and with one or two notable exceptions, it has to be said, standards were not very high. By the time it vacated Baggot Street, in 1990, and moved to Camden Street, membership had grown to 200 and the Club was being recognised as, if not the best, was certainly one of the best camera clubs in the country.
Many of the major trophies in the club were acquired during the 1950s. The Harry Braine Trophy has been mentioned, as has the McElheron Cup. The O'Shaughnessv Cup was presented in 1952 by Mick O'Shaughnessy, proprietor of the shop bearing his name that was in Mary Street. This shop, one of the great institutions of photographic dealership in the City was renowned for great trade-in allowances. Mick was a very good friend of the Club, later presenting a second trophy which was used by the Club for colour slides. The Architecture Cup was presented to the Club by Fred Jermyn, an architect, who was Honorary Secretary for a number of years during the 1950s.
By the early 1950s the supply of photographic equipment and materials had greatly improved if one is to go by the advertisements in the various exhibition catalogues published by the Club during the period. The 1953 edition has an ad for Slattery's stating they were agents for Rollei, Zeiss Ikon, Agfa, Kodak, Ensign etc. and that they carried a full range of papers, chemicals etc, O'Shaughnessy's was "The rendezvous of all amateur photographers" and their ad showed an illustration of a Contax camera. Hurson was an authorised Leica and Zeiss dealer, stocking all grades and shades of Ilford and Agfa papers. The photographic driving force in Hurson's was Paddy Bermingham, later to open his own shop. Butler's Medical Hall was also listed as main Leica dealers. An advert for Roches Chemists lists a comprehensive selection of equipment including Super Ikonta, Contax, Leica and Exacta. The latter was the first 35mm SLR and could have been bought new with an f2 Biotar lens for £82. An ad for Perutz showed a list of monochrome films available with speeds from 40 ASA to 125 ASA, this last was listed as fast! Significantly no colour film was listed.
"Dawn Patrol" early Sunday morning outings were a feature of Club activities during the early 1960s. These were organised by a small group of members who were mostly interested in architectural photography and who wished to photograph the city using early morning light, without the clutter of parked cars. Another Club "institution" at this I time was the annual outing to the zoo. As a special concession, Club members were allowed into the gardens early on a Sunday morning before the general public. Another annual outing was to photograph the Christmas lights on the streets of the city after dark.
The 1950s and 1960s will be remembered by older members for the quality of the cross-channel lecturers which it was possible for Irish camera clubs to obtain then. These were mostly sponsored by photographic manufacturers, notably Ilord. During this period many well-known photographers of the time visited the Club including Adolph Morath, Karl Pollack and Erich Aeurbach. The British photographic writer, Kevin McDonnell came over several times. Many outstanding Irish lecturers visiting the Club included Peter Slattery, by now an A.R.P.S. and many from the North. Probably the most outstanding lecturer to visit the Club during this period was the late Dick Deegan, also an A.R.P.S. Dick could speak on most aspects of photography, a lecture by him in Baggot Street, delivered in his own inimitable style, was a sure guarantee of a packed house. Both of the latter gentlemen, and many others, also performed selflessly as competition and exhibition judges during this period.
In May1959 the Club, in an attempt to popularise colour photography, sponsored an Agfacolor lecture by Lyall G. Smith in St. Anthony's Hall, Merchant's Quay. This was open to the general public and was successful in recruiting many new members. Mr. Smith was one of the pioneers of colour photography in Ireland. He held the franchise to process Agfa colour materials for Ireland and some parts of Europe for many years. Younger members not knowing his name will, at least, be familiar, with his initials in the name of the present day LSL processing lab, "Lyall Smith Labs". One of the Club's trophies also bears his name.
The area of the city around Abbey Street has, for some reason, been the favoured part of the city as the site of the Annual Exhibition. As already mentioned the C.I.E. Club Theatre, in Marlborough Street, was used for the exhibition during the 1950s From 1958 to 1966 it was held in the Metropolitan Hall in Lower Abbey Street that, although larger than the C.I.E. Hall, was up many flights of stairs. The Dawson Hall, in Dawson Street, was used once or twice. From 1967 to 1986 the Abbey Lecture Hall, also known as the Dublin Central Mission Hall, was the chosen venue. In 1987 and 1988 the exhibition was held at the Bank of Ireland Exhibition Hall which was very convenient to the Club premises in Lower Baggot Street. For one year, in 1989 it moved to Arnott's Exhibition Centre, Henry Street and from 1990 to 1997 the exhibition was held in the Irish Life Exhibition Centre returning once again to the Lower Abbey Street area.
The Irish Life Centre becoming unavailable in 1998 the Club was obliged to have the exhibition again in Arnott's Exhibition Centre in Henry Street which was a superb venue located in one of Dublin's largest department stores. Unfortunately it also became unavailable in 2002 necessitating a further move. In 2002 and 2003 the Club's exhibition has been held at The Dublin Civic Museum in South William Street that has the advantages of being close to the busy Grafton Street area and allows the exhibition to remain open for six weeks instead of the usual two at the other venues. It is, however, rather cramped which means that the Club is obliged to reduce the number of prints which it can show.
All of the annual exhibitions held up to 1987 required the use of portable stand-up display boards or panels. During its history the Club has had two sets of such boards. It is not recorded when the first set was introduced, but it was certainly in use by 1953. These boards were one of the jokes of the Club, they were made from 8 feet by 4 feet sheets of soft wallboard framed, to which photographs were attached with panel push pins. They would appear to have been made by a couple of Club handymen. The problem with them was that they had bolted-on legs that were custom made for each board and the first task on arriving at the exhibition venue each year was to match up each board with its legs. As there were about twenty boards the permutations were considerable, this operation usually taking about an hour. Nobody appears to have had the idea of numbering the boards and legs to match.
These boards remained in use up to 1965. During this year, Claude O'Loughlin, one of the most prominent members, having joined in 1946 and a past president, died. His widow expressed a wish to present a trophy to the Club in his memory. At the time the Club did not require another trophy so it was suggested to her that a better idea might be to present the Club with a new set of exhibition boards. She readily agreed to this and subsequently the Club acquired new boards. These were used for the first time in 1966 and were much admired setting a standard for this type of display board in Ireland, they had a mahogany veneer surface to which prints were attached using double sided adhesive materials. They were used by the Club for over twenty years and later were used by the Irish Photographic Federation for some of their various exhibitions.
During the early 1960s the Club acquired a reputation for the high standard of colour transparencies being produced by members. Because of this it was decided to organise "Colourama", which was a national competition for colour slides. This was intended to be an annual affair and the first one was held in 1964. Photographers living in Ireland, both North and South were invited to submit slides in various categories. It attracted over one thousand entries from all parts of the country. A selection of one hundred was made for presentation. A trophy was presented by Peter Slattery for the best slide, and the best slides in each category also received awards.
The standard of the selected slides was considered to be very high, they were shown, with recorded commentary, at venues in Dublin, Cork and Belfast.. The competition was held four times up to 1967. Later a second trophy, the Evening Herald Trophy was presented by Independent Newspapers Limited.
The vexed subject of the Club's name containing the word "amateur" used to come up regularly for discussion at various Annual General Meetings over the years. Those wishing to drop the word always being defeated. Finally at the A.G.M. of 1967 yet another motion suggesting the change was proposed and this time it was carried. Subsequently the Club's official name became "The Dublin Camera Club" on the 1st. of January 1968.
1968 was also the first year in which it was decided to have a special attraction at the annual exhibition. These took the form of small exhibitions within the main exhibition itself and was an attempt to attract greater attendance. It was felt that the Club exhibit on its own was not of sufficient interest to attract the general public. At the time special efforts were being made to restore the Grand Canal. The Club decided, as its contribution to this cause, to ask members to take photographs of the canal and to use a selection of these as the basis of the first "special attraction".
Over the next twenty years many diverse small exhibitions were organised. One man shows, exhibitions of old photographs, glamour photographs by Sam Haskins and fashion photos from Vogue were just some of the subjects presented. The most popular of these tended to be those dealing with some aspect of old Dublin. The last such exhibition was at the Bank of Ireland in 1988. By now the Club's own exhibits were growing in number and not leaving enough room for anything else. It was also thought that it was no longer necessary to have any additional attractions because of the overall increase of interest in photography among the general public. In 1970 the annual exhibition was called "Photo'70" and this set the style for every subsequent exhibition up to the present.
In 1972, the Burren in County Clare was the destination of the first of several annual weekend outings by the Club. The photographic possibilities of the Burren had been explored and promoted in a number of outstanding colour slide shows by Dick Deegan at the Club generating a lot of interest in the area.
One of the most significant photographic events of the 1970s was the opening of the Gallery of Photography on Wellington Quay by John Osman. At the time this was a courageous step that deserved to succeed. The Photographers' Gallery in London, the first exclusively photographic gallery in these islands, had opened not long previously. From the start the Club co-operated with the Gallery in many ways, John Osman acting as judge on several occasions. The Club still maintains contacts with the Gallery under its present management.
It had been a long uphill struggle to convince the powers that be (or were) at the Arts Council that photography was an art form deserving of the same kind of financial assistance as the other arts. The Club had in fact, received the paltry sum of £100 for the presentation of one of the "special attractions". It was largely the work of John Osman at the Gallery that finally convinced the Council that photography should be assisted more adequately.
Part of the Council's recognition of photography was their support for an ambitious exhibition, "Out of the Shadows" organised and selected by John Osman in 1980. The object was to show the work of the most outstanding Irish contemporary photographers. Four members of the Club were included, Peter Donovan, Brendan Walkin, Eddie Chandler and Michael Lavelle. The exhibition had a high profile, travelling around various locations in the North as well as the Republic. In Dublin it was shown at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity College.
The 1970s also saw the foundation of the Irish Photographic Federation. The setting up of some kind of federated arrangement of the various scattered camera clubs in the Republic had been discussed for many years. Finally at a meeting of representatives of various clubs held in the P.S.I. premises on Parnell Square in 1977 the I.P.F. was founded. It was to be an umbrella organisation catering for the needs of member clubs. Its structure was based on similar federations operating in the U.K. including N.I.P.A., which is the Northern Ireland counterpart. Most of the clubs then active in the country became members.
The I.P.F. has been responsible for the great expansion of the amateur photographic movement that has taken place in the intervening years, and it has been a lifeline for provincial clubs in isolated areas, providing judges and lecturers and other assistance. It organises national competitions, culminating in the Agfa National League Finals, to find the best club in the country. The D.C.C. has been the winner on a number of occasions. The annual National League Finals is a travelling event held by a different club each year. In 1993 The Dublin Camera Club was the host and the event was held at the Marian College in Sandymount. The Federation also awards distinctions, the L.I.P.F., A.I.P.F. and the F.I.P.F. and these have been received by many members of the Dublin Camera Club over the past few years.
It is always a traumatic experience for any club or group when a prominent member dies prematurely. The Dublin Camera Clulb has had several such experiences in its history, the deaths of Harry Braine and Claude O'Loughlin have been mentioned. Probably the greatest shock was felt when Brendan Walkin died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 41. Brendan was one of the most outstanding photographers the Club has ever had. He joined the Club in the late sixties and rapidly progressed to the advanced grades. He probably won every trophy awarded in the Club and in the P.S.I. where he was also a member, and was one of the first members to be awarded the A.F.I.A.P. distinction. He travelled widely, visiting Russia, India, Thailand, Scandinavia and many parts of North America. Shortly before his death he made a nine-month journey around the world. As already mentioned he was one of only four Club members to be included in the Arts Councils exhibition, "Out of the Shadows". In 1985 the Club organised a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Bank of Ireland's gallery in Lower Baggot Street. A book, entitled A Place Apart containing one hundred of Brendan's photographs was later published by his family, and a special medal in his memory is awarded each year at the Club's annual exhibition.
Dublin celebrated the City's Millennium in 1988. It was decided that the Camera Club's contribution should take the form of a competition and exhibition of Dublin photographers' work. An illustrated book was to be published as a permanent record of the event. A title, Dublin City and Citizens was chosen, calculated to attract the widest variation of images. A very ambitious concept, particularly for a Club with meagre resources. To make it a reality a sponsor was required. The Club was very lucky to make contact with Ulster Bank, who were also looking for a project to involve them in the Millennium celebrations. They decided to completely finance the entire event.
Entries were received from many Dublin photographers, about half of which were members of the Club. From these, 120 colour and monochrome prints were selected for the exhibition Dublin City and Citizens which was held at Arnott's Exhibition Centre. The book with the same title was published containing one hundred of the exhibits. It was on sale at the exhibition and also in city bookshops. This was probably the most ambitious event in which the Club has ever been involved.
Ownership of the Baggot Street premises changed hands in 1989, resulting in the Club having to deal with a new landlord. It soon became clear that his plans for the house did not include having the Club as one of his tenants. The Council of the Club began the difficult task of finding a new premises. After a considerable time, and many disappointments, number ten Lower Camden Street was suggested by a member. It was examined and considered to be ideal and, as a complete house, it was available at approximately the same rent which we were being asked to pay to stay at Baggot Street, which was, after all, a dingy two roomed basement.
It was necessary, however, to vacate Baggot Street immediately, before the Camden Street house was ready for occupancy, so for a period it was necessary for the Club to meet temporarily at the Scoil Caithriona in Baggot Street adjacent to the old Club premises.
The Club finally moved into the new premises at the beginning of September 1990. It had been a restaurant and much conversion work was necessary to make it suitable for photographic purposes. This included completely re-roofing the building, fitting out the main ground floor room as a gallery-cum-meeting room, converting the old kitchen into two darkrooms and generally renovating and re-wiring the entire building. Later a fully equipped studio was installed on the top floor. A recent addition has been a fully equipped digital workstation.
It was decided to call the building "The Dublin Photographic Centre" in order to establish it as the focal point of photographic activity in Dublin. The idea of having a gallery as part of the premises was a new departure for the Club. It was felt that existing gallery facilities were inadequate, tending to favour "name" photographers and making it very difficult for young or unknowns to receive a showing. It was decided that the Club's gallery should favour this type of photographer and from June 1991 (when it was officially opened) to date, over seventy exhibitions have been staged. The Gallery is included in the Arts Council's book of exhibition venues and is only one of three galleries in the country exclusively showing photographs.
The exhibitors at the gallery have included, Barry Mead, William Allen, Tony Worobiec, Colin Westgate and Leigh Preston from the U.K. and Gys Van Gent from the Netherlands. Irish exhibitors have included Matt Kavanagh, Des Clinton, John Hooten, Andy McGlynn and many Club members. The Gallery has also been the venue for several special and group exhibitions.
Over the years the Club has had as speakers almost every person in Ireland prominent in one or other branches of photography in either an amateur or professional capacity, as well as many U K. and continental visiting speakers. Probably the best known of these was Martin Parr who paid a visit in 1990. The well-known Irish photographer John Minihan, famous for his photographs of Samuel Becket has been at the Club on several occasions.
1995 was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Club and it was decided to celebrate the event with an exhibition that was held at the Guinness Hop Store. It took the form of a large selection of photographs from members past and present as well as archival material such as old catalogues, posters and other memorabilia relating to the Club’s past. It was a great success.
A modern contemporary member of the Dublin Camera Club ensconced in what has been called, by a British visitor "one of the best camera club premises in these islands", must look with a certain amount of bemusement at the Dublin Amateur Camera Club holding its meetings in hotel rooms and garages during those austere post-war days and reflect on the incredible changes which have taken place in photography since then. These changes, however, are as nothing compared to what is certainly going to happen during the new millennium.
Over the years, many members of the club have attained national and international photographic distinctions.