Camera Club of New York records

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Collection Data

The records are reflective of the Club's activities from the late nineteenth century through the late twentieth century. The records contain minutes; correspondence with members; copies of Notes (the official organ of the organization); ephemera (seven slipcases), photographs and plaques honoring the organization.
Camera Club of New York (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1889 - 1983
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 460
Photographers -- New York (State) -- New York -- Societies, etc
Photography -- Exhibitions
Photography -- Study and teaching
Camera Club of New York
Exhibition catalogs
Minutes (Records)
Biographical/historical: On March 28, 1884 a group of amateur photography enthusiasts met at Cooper Union to discuss the formation of a Society of Amateur Photographers. It would be an organization "unhampered by trade interests and to be progressive in the advancement of photography..." One of the first exclusively amateur photography groups in America, The Society of Amateur Photographers of New York came to represent those who saw the medium being weakened and diluted by its new- found popularity with the masses. The science of photography traditionally took precedence over artistic aspirations during most of the nineteenth century. Visual expression was usually directed toward the Victorian ideals of rendering Nature as a form of Divine Truth. As the ranks of photographers began to swell with the introduction of the hand camera and the Kodak, photography began to be relegated to the ranks of the popular fads of the day such as bicycling and lawn tennis. The serious hobbyists sought to preserve the integrity of the medium through formal association. The societal make-up of the clubs encouraged a communal exchange of ideas and philosophies relating to the practice of photography. The amateur photography movement surged greatly in the late 1880's with the introduction of the dry-plate negative and the Kodak camera. Employing a revolutionary film design using a celluloid- nitrate base, the Kodak freed the amateur from the cumbersome tripod and the need to deal with messy developing and printing chemicals. The owner simply sent the camera back to Rochester for processing and reloading. The development of cellulose-based film would not eclipse the use of the glass negative, which was used in the more sophisticated hand cameras of the day until the 1930's. The hand or detective camera was the camera of choice for the serious amateurs who recognized the rendering and manipulative abilities of its design and the larger format. The Kodak, while perceived as a threat, would soon draw millions into the amateur field, and many of these would eventually seek out camera clubs to further their photographic skills. In December 1888, a group split from the Society of Amateur Photographers and formed The New York Camera Club. While no record to date has surfaced to explain the split, it is possible that by 1888 the science of the medium was beginning to take a back seat to the social and artistic aspects of photography. Indeed, taking one's camera out on bicycling trips was a common recreation, and devices were sold to attach a camera to the cycle's handlebars. There was no apparent animosity between the two groups, however, since each regularly participated in joint exhibitions with neighboring societies from Boston and Philadelphia. These exhibitions, which sometimes featured up to 1000 prints were fashioned after the European painting salons of the day, stacked in the old salon style. One can see the dependency at this time on traditions normally connected with painting. It was not until 1897, when the two groups decided to rejoin under the encouragement of Alfred Stieglitz, that photography began to emerge as a medium under its own terms. The new organization, renamed Camera Club of New York, would eventually become the world leader in championing the cause of photography as an art in its own right. Two early amateurs who joined camera clubs in the 1880's were Robert Bracklow and W. Townsend Colbron. Typical of many of the practitioners at this time, these men saw camera clubs as a kind of recreational and social outlet. Perhaps atypical of most photographers who adhered to the rendering of Truth in Nature, Bracklow and Colbron preferred New York City as their chosen subject and setting. While little is known of these men, their surviving photographs offer us a glimpse into their interpretations of the city. Robert L. Bracklow was a legal stationer and bookseller in Manhattan's financial district. His photographs, which he displayed and sold in his shop, show an interest in social and historical content. Bracklow chose to capture both new buildings under construction and old ones marked for demolition. His street level views show a sensitivity to the pedestrians' vantage point and how they perceived the ever-changing urban landscape. Typical of many of Bracklow's views is his image of the soon-to-be demolished Croton Reservoir prior to construction of the New York Public Library. Bracklow joined the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York soon after its formation in 1884. He would eventually serve as its Secretary and Librarian. He maintained his membership until his death in 1920. Bracklow also served on the Society's Print Committee. His archive of negatives, which include views of the Club's quarters circa 1900, and portraits of fellow members, are housed at the New-York Historical Society. William Townsend Colbron is an even more obscure figure, although nevertheless an interesting one. His few surviving images display a sense of pride in commerce and a sense of humor as well. A broker by trade, Colbron would focus on the thriving commercial thoroughfares and docks that brought New York City to life each day. His bird's-eye views enabled him to integrate the city's grand architecture with the teeming street activity below. As one of the founding members of the New York Camera Club, Colbron served as its first Secretary and its second President. These social responsibilities apparently did not dampen his humor as one can see in his telling multiple self- portraits. These images, intending to spell out the multiple personalities required to be Secretary of the Club, display Colbron's sense of joviality but they also show a remarkable handling of the medium itself. New developments in photographic technology were of prime importance to members of the various photographic societies. Proceedings of the meetings and journal publications are filled with detailed analyses of processing and printing procedures, chemical formulae for developing and toning, and, of course, references to newly manufactured equipment. The Society of Amateur Photographers, The New York Camera Club and later, the Camera Club of New York, were all testing grounds for new products in photography. Exhibitions and demonstrations of hand cameras were staged for members by the leading camera makers of the day. Opinions of these and others photographic products by club members were eagerly sought from manufacturers such as Anthony, Eastman, Carbutt and Scovill. An exhibition of "Modern Mechanical Photographic Processes" held at the New York Camera Club in 1890 was an example of the type of industry-sponsored event from this period, complete with a catalogue detailing a history of the photo-mechanical process and full page descriptions of their respective processes. One photographic genre, the magic lantern slide, was especially useful in enabling group showings of members' and other amateurs' work. The American Lantern Slide Exchange sprang from the Society of Amateur Photographers' efforts to get critical reviews of the works of its members and to see the work that other, similar societies across the country were doing. From a social standpoint, lantern slides allowed members to gather together to see work, discuss it and perhaps become inspired to strive further. One of the acknowledged masters of the early lantern slide was Alfred Stieglitz. Many of his most famous early views, Winter, Fifth Avenue, and Icy Night were first displayed in lantern slide format at the Camera Club. Alfred Stieglitz joined the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York in 1891, the same year he assumed the co-editorship of the American Amateur Photographer with W. H. Burbank. Stieglitz's reputation as an award-winning photographer was already established at this time. His activist pursuit of Photo-Pictorialist legitimacy in the arts in America essentially began with these two roles. When the New York Camera Club rejoined the Society of Amateur Photographers (The former had money but too few members; the latter had plenty of members but little money.), Stieglitz, having the greatest drive as well as reputation, was offered the presidency. Declining, Stieglitz chose the less demanding role of vice-president and became the chairman of the Publications Committee, and obtained a seat on the Exhibitions and Lantern Slide Committees. In April of 1897, Stieglitz proposed to expand the official organ of the Club into a larger publication for subscription to the public. Each member would receive a free subscription. Camera Notes premiered in July 1897 and was an immediate success. While Camera Notes' design and layout attracted attention, it was the photogravure illustrations that received the most critical praise. Stieglitz was famous for his stance on quality reproductions. He was equally famous for his sometimes exclusionary tactics on representation. His stance on reproduction would eventually lead to his resignation from the American Amateur Photographer. His insistence on reproducing or exhibiting only what he thought was the best in American picture work would eventually lead to his abandoning the editorship of Camera Notes in July 1902 and his notorious expulsion from the Camera Club in 1908. Stieglitz's presence was also very much felt within the confines of the Camera Club quarters. Bringing in Clarence H. White, Gertrude Kasebier, Joseph T. Keiley, Frank Eugene and many others, Stieglitz formed a powerful base within the organization. Inevitably, this led to much indignation from those members who found themselves outside the spotlight or who did not subscribe to Stieglitz's brand of pictorialism. Stieglitz would, of course, move on to many more pioneering achievements with Camera Work (1903-1917) and his gallery 291. The Camera Club would continue to enlist pictorialists as well as new emerging modernists like Alvin Langdon Coburn, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler. With the continued growth of the amateur photography market, the Camera Club sustained its reputation as the leading amateur club in the nation. As camera clubs across the nation began to multiply, salons and juries opened up opportunities for thousands to participate in the medium. Paul Strand joined the Camera Club of New York in 1908 at the age of seventeen and remained a member until 1936. It was here that Strand acquired many of the printing and camera techniques that led to his evocative images of New York. His straightforward style of photography, which made use of inherent forms around him, was a marked departure from pictorialism and a giant leap towards realism. The straight photographic approach would soon dominate photography's avant-garde. Charles Sheeler, perhaps through his acquaintance with Strand, soon joined the Camera Club as well. Both were to lay the foundations of American modernist photography with clear, objective views of their existing surroundings. Portraiture has always been an important genre for the aspiring photographer. Many would rely on the practice as a reliable source of income and as a means to launch their careers. Some of Edward Steichen's first efforts at fashion and celebrity portraiture for Vanity Fair and Vogue were executed at the Camera Club's studios. One of Steichen's early successes was his portrait of John Barrymore, circa 1920. Alfred Cheney Johnston, who served as a Camera Club trustee in 1926, became the official photographer of the Ziegfeld Follies. His portraits of the so-called Ziegfeld Girls served as both personal expressions of feminine beauty and as promotions for the Ziegfeld Revue. Nickolas Muray's soft, distinctive style of portraiture attracted many of the avant-garde of the 1920's to his Greenwich Village studio. A Club member in the late teens and early twenties, Muray would have his first one-person exhibition at the Camera Club in 1921. Later, his mastery of the color-carbo process would also be first exhibited at the Club in 1939. Pirie MacDonald, who served as a Camera Club trustee in the late 1920's, began specializing in the portraiture of men after 1900. A respected and revered member, MacDonald lectured and exhibited at the Club often. Among his many prominent sitters were Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick MacMonnies and George W. Russell. Since its creation in 1896, The Camera Club of New York has continuously exhibited the works of photographers known and respected worldwide. Through its program of member shows, invitational salons and exchange exhibits, photographers, both known and unknown, have been presented to global audiences. The Club's extensive network of club associations has provided opportunities to exhibit as far away as New Zealand and Japan. Through their invitational salons staged in the 1920's and 1930's eminent photographers from the European scene such as Man Ray, Rolf Tietgens, Jaromir Funke, Franktisek Dritikol and Joseph Breitenbach were exhibited. Other photographers of the day, including Laura Gilpin, William Mortensen, George Hurrell, Erwin Blumenfeld and Lejaren Hiler were also invited to exhibit. Two of the many who lectured at the Camera Club in the 1930's were Willard Morgan, who lectured and demonstrated the Leica camera in 1930; and Berenice Abbott who lectured on The Life and Work of Atget in 1931. Many of the leading pictorialists of the 1930's and 1940's were active members of the Camera Club. Adolf Fassbender, Dr. D. J. Ruzicka and Frank Fraprie were regular fixtures. Fraprie, a member for over thirty years, edited American Photographer (1902-1940) for nearly its entire run. His American Annual of Photography became known as the blue book of pictorial photography, and listed each year's most exhibited pictorialists in competitive salons. During World War II, the Camera Club was active as a service organization. Via the efforts of Club member Josephine U. Herrick, the Volunteer Service Photographers organization was formed in 1941. This group reached out to troops overseas by creating a photograph and letter campaign with messages sent by children and others from respective home towns to boost morale. At home the VSP taught photography to injured veterans as a form of rehabilitation, with great success. Many prominent photographers of the day lent a hand to VSP by giving lectures and otherwise helping to raise awareness of their efforts. Among them were Margaret Bourke-White, Philippe Halsman and Maurice Tabard. VSP also organized other camera clubs across the nation to do the same, and Herrick and others received certificates of merit from the U. S. government for their efforts. Today, the VSP still functions as Rehabilitation Through Photography, which continues photography at hospitals and other institutions in New York City. Also, during the war, there were several secret research and development programs in photography conducted for the Armed Forces by many of the distinguished members of the Camera Club. Adolf Fassbender, D. J. Ruzicka, Otto Mayer and John Doscher offered their expertise and knowledge of optics and film resolution to advance aerial and reconnaissance photography. In April 1946, W. Eugene Smith exhibited 200 photographs of his World War II images at the Camera Club. Photographs taken by his mother were also exhibited. Sponsored by the Association of Magazine Photographers, the exhibit was a critical and popular success. Smith, then recuperating from a war injury that severely mangled his left hand, was inspired by the success of the Camera Club show, and returned to his camera work. Smith went on to create some of his most memorable, humanistic photo-essays for Life magazine. The post-war years brought many new and interesting faces to the Camera Club. Beaumont Newhall joined in 1947 to use the Club's extensive library of photographic literature for research on his second edition of History of Photography. Richard Avedon presented a lecture on fashion photography in 1949 and Merle Armitage lectured on Edward Weston in conjunction with an exhibition by Weston at the Club in 1950. Ansel Adams would follow the Weston Exhibit that same year. In 1951 Clarence John Laughlin, George Hurrell and Arnold Newman would lecture and exhibit here. The Camera Club's commitment to photographic education remained strong throughout the 1960's and 1970's. In 1960 New York University established a photography instruction program in conjunction with the Camera Club. Students were offered the expertise of the Club's seasoned members and use of the extensive darkroom and studio facilities. The work of today's Camera Club reflects the wide variety of styles and techniques available to the camera enthusiast. By serving amateurs, artists, students and retirees, the Camera Club maintains a membership that crosses all sections of the public sphere. Consequently, the work produced by Club members covers a range that runs from documentary to pictorialism to personal exhibitions covering social and cross-cultural themes, and educational courses for members and non-members alike. Lectures, symposia and workshops continue the long tradition of addressing issues relevant to the needs and concerns of today's photographic community. Over its one hundred-plus-year history, the Camera Club of New York has sustained its stated mission to "advance that art and science of photography" and has gone on to do much more. With the continued vitality of the Camera Club of New York, there will remain a facility and venue for those who seek out photography's expressive potential. (Text adapted from the 1988 exhibition catalogue "Then and Now: the Camera Club of New York, 1888-1988" by Tony Troncale). Additions to the records were received in 2007.
Content: The Camera Club of New York Records (1889-1983, 17. 3 linear ft.) reflect the Club's organizational operations from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century, through administrative records, correspondence, ephemera, printed material, photographs, artifacts and related items. Dominant in the collection are the administrative records, particularly the minutes of the Board of Trustees and Members (1925-1982). The Minutes highlight issues of importance to the Board of Trustees and the members; however, they do not encompass the formative years of the Camera Club of New York or the original parent organizations, the Society of Amateur Photographers and the New York Camera Club. It is possible that the Camera Club did not begin to record meetings systematically until 1925. The earliest official period of the organization is represented by lists of officers and members for the years 1892, 1893 and 1900. The official minutes of the Board of Trustees and Members Meetings are typed transcripts. The minutes recorded topics of importance such as reports of committees and members, attendance figures, treasurer's reports and other timely topics (i. e. color photography). Besides the regularly scheduled meetings held several times a year, special meetings were also held. These meetings were of critical importance, covering such issues as the amending the organization's constitution. The Minutes also include incomplete sets of the minutes of the Membership Committee and the Print Committee. Included in the records are references to the Camera Club London Branch. This was a separate organization not affiliated with the Camera Club. The remainder of this section includes copies of the constitution and by-laws in amended versions. Following the administrative records is correspondence relating to a variety of organization-related topics. The General Correspondence (1950-1985) includes letters from members on miscellaneous subjects. Other correspondence in this section pertains to the sale of the Club's library (1955-1977); and the relationship between the Camera Club and New York University (1964-1968). Under an agreement between the Camera Club and New York University, the Camera Club offered expertise to the University students on photography. New York University decided to sever this agreement in 1968, citing a desire to teach its own courses. The remainder of the correspondence briefly mentions burglaries and fires, foundation funds, grants, pledges and periodical subscriptions of the Camera Club. Also represented in this section is a Round Table Discussion (typed transcript) held by the Camera Club on April 12, 1956. The presiding chairman, William Clark, opened the discussion by asking, "What are the qualities of a good picture? " There followed an exchange between a group of men and women on this question and the related topic of paintings. There is no written indication as to the length of the meeting or who recorded the discussion. The Ephemera (1890-1984) and the Albums (1889-1940) complement each other. While the Ephemera is a mixture of loose material including admission tickets, notices for exhibits, brochures for exhibits and related material, the Albums offer a more complete picture of events held by the Camera Club. The Albums document the New York Camera Club between the years 1889-1897, following its split from the Society of Amateur Photographers and its reorganization after the groups rejoined in 1897 to form the Camera Club of New York. Material that may have been generated by The Society of Amateur Photographers is not included in the albums. The Albums offer excellent examples of typeface, style and paper used by the Camera Club. Of particular interest is a luxurious brochure produced for Alfred Stieglitz's exhibition (May 1-15, 1899). There are also samples of notices produced for magic lantern slide shows and a notice for the 1890 exhibition "Modern Mechanical Photographic Processes. ". The Printed Material consists of published material by and about the Camera Club. This section includes Articles, Newsletter, and Camera Club Notes. The Articles, 1899-1982 and the Scrapbooks, 1920-1950 (the latter not part of the printed material section), mirror each other, in a manner similar to the ephemera and albums. The printed material consists of articles about the Camera Club, its members and photography. The Scrapbooks of articles and scattered letters offer more comprehensive information about the development of photography, exhibits and photographers. Highlights of the printed material are the pamphlet Glycerine Process for Platinum May 14, 1900, autographed by Alfred Stieglitz and a copy of a catalog of the Society of Amateur Photographers (1895). Camera Club Notes is the official organ of the Camera Club of New York. A monthly publication (published sporadically) it serves to keep members informed about events relating to the field of photography as well as personal events (i. e. weddings). The collection does not contain a complete set of Camera Club Notes; missing are the years from 1897 to 1943, 1954 to 1970 and from 1973 to the present. Another publication of the Camera Club is the Newsletter; dates represented are 1983 to 1984. The Camera Club Records also contain blueprints, contracts, financial papers including general accounts, incomplete income taxes and miscellaneous papers. Similar to many organizations, the Camera Club recognizes the merits of individuals who have attained significant achievements. The Camera Club has also been recognized for its contributions in the field of photography. Plaques are representative of this recognition. The records contain several plaques, including one referencing a salon dedicated to the memory of Ella W. Appele; an award of excellence given to the Camera Club in 1975; and service awards recognizing its members and contributors. While the artifacts highlight the work of the men and women who excelled within the Camera Club, the photographs offer visual evidence of its membership. The photographs and photograph albums (1940-1950) afford a glimpse into the Camera Club's past, depicting members attending meetings and parties, and engaged in photography. There are also some interior and exterior views of the building which housed the Club. Many of the photographs are not identified; all are in black and white (see also: Board of Trustees and Members Minutes 1946-1947 [1 volume] for additional pictures). The remainder of the collection contains the names of many of the Club's members and visitors through its membership roster (1950-1985); list of members who resigned; and guest registers.
Acquisition: The Camera Club of New York Records were received as a gift from the Camera Club through Tony Troncale (Archivist 1986-1992; President of the Camera Club of New York 1991-1992).
Content: Processing information: Processed by Valerie Wingfield, July 1993
Physical Description
Extent: 17.3 linear feet (23 1/2 archival boxes, 21 volumes)
Type of Resource
Still image
Sound recording
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b21290333
MSS Unit ID: 460
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): ec2cbbf0-a27e-013b-a59a-0242ac110002
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