The 154-year-old Photographic Society of Madras has kept pace with changes in the art.
With almost every mobile phone available in the market coming with a camera, the profile of casual photographers has gone through a sea change. The impact of this change has even permeated the 154-year-old Photographic Society of Madras which has added a category in its National Salon (its all-India competition on photography) solely for mobile camera pictures.
“Photography using mobile phones has changed the mindset of the common man. Many people who start with mobile cameras upgrade to compact and DSLRs later because of the growing interest in photography,” says S Vivekanandan, president of the society.
The Photographic Society of Madras was established in Madras in 1857 by Alexander Hunter, an Englishman who was the driving force behind the Madras School of Industrial Arts and who had close contacts in the higher echelons of Madras Presidency. He brought in Walter Elliot, the member of the Governor's Council after whom Chennai’s Elliot’s beach is named, to become the first president of the society. The society met regularly on the premises of the School of Industrial Arts and organised photographic exhibitions, for which people would come from overseas to participate.
The society was revamped and renamed the Madras Amateur Photographic Society in the mid-1880s. Governors of Madras and Indian princes like the maharaja of Vijayanagaram became patrons of the society. The society was inactive for around 20 years from 1914, with the beginning of World War I, after which a lawyer, A Arunachalam, revived the society again as Madras Photographic Society in 1932, only to become dormant again in the 1980s. Finally, in 1997, five friends revived it by restoring its original name, Photographic Society of Madras.
“By the time, a lot had changed in the art of photography, leaving the black and white, traditional methods in the past,” says Vivekanandan, one of those five friends.
The society today is an organisation which enthuses professionals from various fields including, doctors, government officials and software professionals, who treat photography as a passion or a hobby. It has welcomed the positive changes in the art — for example, earlier, few people were able to afford the equipment and film for photography, while the latest digital cameras are more affordable. The members now present their photographs in the electronic format.
The only criteria to become a member of the society is an interest in photography. It does not even insist that members should have cameras. The society went through a restructuring in 2007, as a result of which specific bylaws and duration between meetings and a set of directors were introduced. The new leadership also decided to admit students as members, with a lower fee for annual membership. The society has three types of memberships — annual (fee of Rs 1,000), life time (Rs 10,000) and student memberships (Rs 600 per year). Currently, around 75 of its 400 members are students.
For the last three years, it has been conducting annual National Salons — exhibition of works from around 1,400 Indian photographers — during August-November every year, as well as monthly meetings where photographs of members would be presented and merits and demerits were discussed. It is planning to conduct its first international salon in Chennai with around 3,000 to 5,000 participants in Chennai in 2012.
The society also invites eminent photographers and film makers as guests to discuss the latest trends and methods of photography. A few visual communication institutes have showed interest in working with the society for these sessions. It also runs an online journal, www.lenslight.org.