Southern Suburbs Photographic Society (SSPS) is one of the most successful clubs in Australia, if not the world. Not only are our members successful in producing great images and being successful in photographic exhibitions, but several are now putting their knowledge and experience gained at SSPS by moving into the field of professional photography.
Currently we have over 120 members. This resurgence of interest in photography goes hand in hand with the digital revolution and ‘darkroom’ workers have mostly replaced their ‘laboratories’ with computers and appropriate software. Records show one of our members sold his house and moved into a retirement village. The family who bought the property thought that he was into producing drugs as he had a small room with no windows, running water and a sink. Neighbours across the road put things right explaining it was a ‘darkroom’.
How we got started
We may never know how nine gentlemen came together on March 11, 1952 at a house in Gowrie Street East Bentleigh but their purpose was to ‘form a society for the study and pursuit of amateur photography'. But meet they did, then as now, the first and third Tuesday of each month; they formed the club and named it the Southern Suburbs Photographic Society. Perhaps they were inspired by a ‘Camera Clubs of Australia Exhibition’ in 1951 and almost certainly would have attended it.
The first information that we have regarding the formation of the Southern Suburbs Photographic Society is a tattered old cash book which has written on the front cover: First Annual Minute Book of Society. The following were present and became founding members: Mr G O’Brian (President), Mr. V. Tucker (Secretary), Mr P Cole (Treasurer), Mr A Crouch, Mr G Bourke, Mr G Bisset, Mr K Ball, Mr B Sharpe and Mr P Wright.
The first club meeting took place at Bonds Catering Rooms, 301 Centre Road, Bentleigh (since demolished) on April 10, 1952 when fourteen members were present. At the second club meeting held two weeks later there were 22 members in attendance. It was reported that ‘Many members brought cameras making a fine show of precision equipment including a Linhof Stereoscopic camera’. Over the next six decades there were several moves of meeting places. These were, in most cases, the result of lack of space, rent increases or demolition!
Late in 1957 SSPS moved to the Ormond Angler’s Hall. At this time the membership had climbed to 57. A rent increase at the Angler’s Hall to £2.16.0 per night resulted in a move early in 1959 to the Bentleigh Baptist Church in Vickery Street. Rent at this site was paid by a ‘donation’ of 15/- (15 shillings) nightly.
From the first meeting in 1971 a room at the Moorabbin Town Hall was used as the club required more space (70 chairs were needed for each meeting). By late 1973, there was marked fall off in attendance and SSPS moved to another room in the Town Hall at half the rent and half the size. In 1986 Moorabbin Council decided to make improvements to the Town Hall and as they were not making rooms available, once again the club had to move. This was to the Uniting Church Hall just a stone throw away over the Nepean Highway in Hemming Street East Brighton.
By 1988 the membership had dropped to 39 however, in 1994 when the Cheltenham Camera Club was wound up due to lack of members, many of the remaining members joined SSPS. When the Uniting Church decided to remodel their halls in 2009 and by then our membership had grown to the largest so far in the history of the club, it was time to look for larger premises. From July 1, 2010 the club met at the Scout Hall in the Bayside Community Centre in Highett. The Scouting Association however, had been trying to sell the hall to Bayside Council for some time and in September 2011, we had to seek a new home once again. After a lot of searching by several committee members, a new meeting place was found at the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church Hall on the corner of Nepean Highway and Park Road in Cheltenham.
Since its inception the club had always met on the first and third Tuesday of each month. For the past several years we have held a meeting on the second Tuesday of each month from February through to October. This is the Skills Development group where there are presentations on a wide range of subjects. These have included many on Photoshop, help with camera operation, lighting set ups for models and audio visuals shows.
On the first Tuesday, entries are handed in for the monthly competitions and more often than not, we have guest speakers who are experienced on many subjects.
They never have to fill up the time like one did in the 1950’s. That person entertained the members with a most interesting account of his experiences as a photographer. The talk included a piano solo and conjuring tricks. During 1953, a Melbourne Sun newspaper photographer spoke about press photography and his experiences in general. Comment was that ‘he couldn’t even remember what lens was on his camera but he can certainly take pictures’. At this meeting, for the first time, it was standing room only for late-comers. Some 31 members were present.
Many members during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were mainly interested in monochrome photography, so many of the evenings concentrated on the processing of film and making prints which involved chemicals and darkroom work
Membership over the past 60 years has fluctuated greatly getting down to the low 40’s in 1960, 1988, 1997 and 2000. Only in the 1970’s, and the past few years have we had over 100 members. At the Annual General Meeting of 1972, there was a motion to make SSPS a combined Still/Movie club but it was defeated.
Photography in the 1950s was a technical affair that involved much skill with chemicals so those photographic enthusiasts with a strong background in science and industry were in high demand to help the growing numbers of amateurs keen to learn how to produce their own images. As the effects of WW2 began to dissipate, the 1950s saw a massive influx of camera designs with the 35mm camera becoming more popular. However, 120 roll film remained the favoured format for the cheaper box cameras as well as the 6x6 medium format for professionals.
Victorian Association of Photographic Societies (VAPS)
The formation of our Society was not an isolated event. The early 1950s saw many camera clubs formed around this time. SSPS was a founding member of VAPS, both commencing in 1952, and is one of the oldest photographic clubs in Victoria, with only five older.
The 1960s saw the availability of colour slide film for the amateur, followed by colour negative film and keen club members shared the joy and pain of colour processing and printing. Interest was still high in monochrome photography and beginners called on the expertise of seasoned darkroom veterans for advice.
Publicity between 1958-1967 was generously given by local papers, including a full front page in the Southern Cross of April 9, 1969. Late in 1968, 1,000 book matches were purchased to promote the club and handed out to numerous photography shops in the area. Showcases were installed at local railway stations in 1970 but had to be removed several years later after they kept on being damaged and the prints stolen.
Guest Speakers are an important part of our club’s activities, providing members with insights into the world of the professional photographer. One such luminary was Athol Shmith, who judged occasionally and frequently gave members instructions on photographing models.
Difficult times in the late 1960s led to poor attendance and a miserable $13.75 in the kitty almost brought the club to a close. Members personally gave generous donations and the club began to prosper. At the Annual General Meeting in March 1983 the President was able to report that the club was in a very strong position due to the fact that “we had to overcome a position of bankruptcy. We did this by trying to cut unwarranted expenditure.”
Outings are a feature of SSPS and have always been well attended by members. These field trips vary from inner and outer Melbourne to those in recent years which include the five day visit to Tasmania in 2008, Gippsland and in 2011 to Norfolk Island. Our records show in 1961, the club went to the Channel 9 studios to see the 'Graham Kennedy' show 'In Melbourne Tonight'. A car trial took place in 1962 with a box of chocolates for the winners! Thirty one members went by bus to Aireys Inlet on an outing in 1967.
Successes in the past several years have made SSPS a strong club at the local, national and international level.
On page 125 in the INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS section, the article written by Bronwen Casey details such successes. Also in 2010, SSPS was responsible for the organisation and running of the VAPS interclub competition and played its part in promoting and supporting the parent organisation in making the years' Muster’ held at Apollo Bay, a huge success.
Community involvement in recent years has increased. We had our first exhibition of members’ work at the Beaumaris Library in February/March, 2006. In November the same year we had another exhibition, ‘Beyond Bayside’ at Bayside Corporate Centre and again in 2007 called ‘Moments in Time’. In May 2010 a group of about ten members from SSPS formed a team to record events at the Bayside Literary Festival for the Bayside Council. This was repeated again by a similar number of members in 2011.
The growth in membership together with the introduction of digital photography has created the need for training. In response, SSPS runs courses for Beginners as well as the Advanced workers. Currently we definitely do not have the financial problem that we had in the past. Increased interest in picture taking and making, a flow on from the dominance of the digital camera, opening up unimagined photographic opportunities. This has meant introducing the beginners and advanced courses. These courses began in the late 1990s with the idea of introducing people from the local areas to basic photography skills. Committee members including John Howard, Anthony (Tony) Fowler and David Calkin, arranged and conducted these introductory courses. This was seen as a positive activity and the courses have continued to be very successful. In 2008, our current President, Ian Rolfe compiled an advanced course from his many years of professional photographic experience and knowledge to further this education process.
Many members have taken advantage of enrolling in these courses which have aided them in their photographic endeavours. The current members owe a huge debt of gratitude to the nine gentlemen who took the initiative to come together in 1952 and form our wonderful Southern Suburbs Photographic Society.
We also owe the same debt to all those members who have made SSPS the success that it is and has been over the past sixty years.
From 2012 for competition purposes, members will be in either A or B section and the names Large and Small Prints will no longer be used. The slide film section has been replaced with Digital Projected Images (DPI) in line with the change from film to digital capture. This section will continue with A and B sections as in the past.
Our tenure at St.Matthews Anglican Church Hall looks to be long term.
On March 19, 2012 we celebrated our 60th Anniversary with a dinner at the Highett RSL Club together with the launch of our history book ''SIXTY YEARS IN THE MAKING 2012"
Amended Sept 2014