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Our History

A brief account of the history of the Oxford Photographic Society by Vernon C Brooke ABIPP AMPA ARPS President OPS June 2007.

The very early days of the OPS are poorly recorded due to the loss of the archives between the first and second world wars. During WW 2 the secretary ship changed hands so many times due to the uncertainty of wartime life generally, that the archives up to that time have been lost. I sincerely hope that one day these important records will come to light. One of our club members did some research at the Brandford Museum of photography during our centenary year in 1989. He discovered in the records of the Royal Photographic Society the first known mention of the OPS was a slide lecture at the Holywell music rooms OU in 1889.

This is the earliest record of the club so far but it is likely that the club existed before that. In another reference in Practical Photographers Annual of 1908 details of the OPS stated that in 1894 the society had a membership of 100, the entrance fee was 1 shilling and the annual membership was five shillings, meetings were held on the second and forth Mondays of each month at the University museum, ladies where admitted, Exhibitions of photographs where held Bi-annually and the society was affiliated to the Royal Photographic Society. The secretary at the time was George Newton and the president was none other than Sir John Hershel the famous astronomer. A copy of an old photograph from the Oxford city archives shows a group of OPS members on an outing to Clifton Hampden in 1890. the picture shows a horse and trap, a crowd of photographers and a forest of tripod legs!

Our present archives start around 1943. these are a little sketchy so a lot of the following information comes from my own recollections as a continuous member for 58 years having joined in 1949, when I first joined the leading lights in the club were Bob Rose, Harold Crawley ARPS, Jock Williams ARPS and Jim Forest (secretary) in the years immediately following the war photographic materials were in very short supply, government war surplus was available in the form of five inch roll film normally intended for use in military aerial cameras, members would purchase this film and by use of a home made gadget split the film down the middle to produce two strips two and a half inches wide (standard 120 roll film) this was then cut to the appropriate length and attached to second hand backing paper for re use, all these operation had to be carried out in total darkness, Unfortunately there was never an indication of the film speed so a lot of experimenting was required, it was common practice for most members to make up their own chemicals using stock supplied mainly from Boots the Chemist, book on formulae were supplies by Ilford , Kodak ,Agfa and others, this was the age of innovation, the club had an extensive library where books could be loaned at meetings and returned in two weeks, various venues were used for meetings including the Oxford Girls school rooms at the rear of Rowells silversmith in the high street, the Geology department OU, Oriel College lecture rooms and some meetings a Southfield school.

Practical meetings included Portraiture, film and print processing and lens testing. In the 50s and 60s two print portfolios were circulated one for East Oxford and one for West Oxford, Each folio had about fourteen members who each in turn placed a print together with all details of the camera, lens, film, paper, developer etc inside. also included was a sheet for comments by each member, When the circuit was complete the print and comment sheet was taken out and a further print and details put in, this provided useful information on various processing and technical details.

For many years the club held a Christmas Social evening where wives, partners and friends were invited to come along, unfortunately this has been discontinued which is a pity as the social side is an essential part of club life , recently small groups of members have enjoyed trips to Wales, Canada, Kenya and Romania with more venues suggested, this allows for a broader outlook and also produces some excellent images.

At the present time the club membership stands at around 100 members and new members are joining through logging on to our website. In recent years the change over to digital imaging has been dramatic where the use of computers allows freedom of imagination (where would we be with out Photoshop?) more members are changing from traditional film to digital, partly due to the increasing difficulty in obtaining 35mm film stock, (perhaps a trip to the army surplus is needed?). The club has a healthy future as we look to the next 100 years.