Photography News Issue 33

Photography News | Issue 33 |

15 Interview

Profile Walter Benzie Newly elected as president of the Royal Photographic Society, Walter Benzie gives us an insight into his photographic life, as well as discussing the workings and future of the Society


Can you give our readers some background about yourself? In spite of doing physics and chemistry at A level, I chose to train to become a chartered accountant. I took up photography at school where I spent many happy hours messing about with noxious chemicals. The magic moment came when I saw my print, completely bleached out, being restored again in a sulphide toner bath. After school, I just used my camera to record special occasions and only really got back into serious photography when I became a member of Guildford Photographic Society in the 1980s and subsequently a PAGB judge. I obtained my LRPS in 2008 and attempted my ARPS in 2010; my initial submission was rejected on the grounds of ‘lack of attention to detail’. After feedback, I amended the panel extensively for resubmission. Happily the revised panel passed. I have always felt our distinctions process is a way of monitoring our photographic progress but not an end in itself. I wrote an article in our Journal showing bothmy failed panel and the improved version. I amnow a proudmember of our Licentiate panel and this helps keep me in touch with our distinctions process. How long have you been involved in the RPS and what encouraged you to become president? Iwastreasurerforfiveyears,andIwas approached to run as vice president. At the time, I was astonished, but later came to realise that I had an opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to The Society. You’ve had a few months in the hot seat, how’s it going at the RPS? Since becoming president, I have set up various review committees to ensure we are working efficiently,

imaging seriously but in a non- traditional way, ie. using phone cameras but also instant film. Their interests might also be different – for example, street photography. What would you say to this? We are an organisation that welcomes members of any age and skill set. There are no criteria restricting the kind of equipment people use. Recently, we have had distinctions successes with mobile phones so we do not want to give the impression that we are only for those with top of the range gear. We also run workshops on street photography and have walkabouts where those skills can be put into practice.Thishasbeenverysuccessful in the London region. Certainly, we would like to involve more younger members; one of the problems is that taking photography seriously can be time-consuming and some of us have had to wait until we have that time. I appreciate that we have more to do to appeal to the young; but we also should try to attract more professionals. As a profession, photography has undergone a revolution with anyone touting an expensive camera being able to claim they are a ‘professional’. Professionals are now more likely to be self-employed, as newspapers have cut staff.We run courses to assist pros to help themunderstandwhat it takes to run a successful business. Having appropriate letters after your name should also give some reassurance to the public as to quality and I feel we could do more to underline that aspect. What do you find the most/least enjoyable activities as president? It is wonderful meeting members at events and getting involved in photography in a wider sense. Recently, the RPS supported the government STEM project to make Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths more interesting as career choices to students. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing some work done by photographers who have been homeless; it was a very humbling experience having the pictures explained by the actual photographers involved. Photography has a very broad reach. Least enjoyable? Paperwork. What would success look like at the end of your presidency? Growing membership, more aiming for distinctions and more younger members.

fairly and keeping up with best practice. As membership continues to grow, the areas we are looking at are distinctions, governance and website improvements. This is not, necessarily, a sign of any concern, but more a reflection of their importance. Perhaps, as a result of my business background, I donot feel ‘presidential’ – more a part of a team. To emphasise this, I have asked my colleagues on Counciltoalternatewithmeinwriting the ‘president’s piece’ in our Journal to let our readers know more about the individual members of Council. In addition, we need to be clear that we are not just a membership organisation, but a registered charity with a wider mission to promote excellence in photography and support the rights of photographers in general. We must be there to embrace the whole world of photography. It is certainly true that some see us as a large camera club, but we do so many different things that you can still belong to a camera club and gain a great deal by being a member - these are not mutually exclusive activities. What is your vision for the RPS? • To be recognised as one of the leading voices in photography whose mandate is to promote excellence in the art and the science of photography • To be a society for anyone with a passion for photography - to help them find inspiration, improvement and get involved with like-minded people with interests in common • To increase our educational role; apart from workshops and the Open University programme, we need to get more web-based activities to help our members wherever they are. Our overseas membership is growing at a fast rate and we need to see how we can better support them We’ve been updating our strategic objectives in the light of the above. The RPS has 300 active volunteers worldwide and is supported by a headquarters in Bath with 15 staff to help us realise these objectives. We are very fortunate to have Michael Pritchard as director general and he has donemuch to raise our profile. Our headquarters are now becoming too cramped and we will soon have to find a larger venue without breaking the bank. We saw the announcement from the National Media Museum at Bradford about the RPS collection. How does that impact on the RPS? We were completely taken aback by the announcement that the National Media Museum in Bradford is changing its remit to become more

involved in its scientific activities. We have maintained a very good working relationship with Bradford, with our members assisting in the documenting of the items, but if their plans are fulfilled, the collection will transfer to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. We do expect to be consulted on thismove andwill try our best to ensure that our original agreement is adopted in full by the new custodians. The collection is of world significance and should be seen as a treasure and resource for all. One of the ways this can happen is for the collection to be digitised – a long and time consuming process – and which had not yet been started at Bradford. We also want the collection to be maintainedas awhole and to continue as a live collection. Do you think RPS membership is good value? You probably hear the same criticisms as we do in that all you get is a magazine (the RPS Journal , now published 12 times a year), but nothingmuch else? Is this a concern and, if so, what strategies have you in place? Certainly research shows those members that participate in our activities are the most satisfied with their membership. Some stay with us because they have or are trying for a distinction, but we also have many members who participate in various events that are scheduled around the country. We are divided into regions and members should be regularly invited to attend local activities. Our Special Interest Groups are a must for like-minded souls. The range of subjects runs from Analogue, Archaeology&Heritage,Audiovisual, Contemporary, Creative, Digital imaging, Documentary, Historical, Imaging science, Landscape, Medical, Nature, Travel, to Visual art. Just take a look at our website to more fully understandwhat they cover. Most run events and workshops and print their own journals. All members can go to any event – whether or not they actually belong to the group – but they might have to pay a small entrance fee. The sad thing is we see members of the public showing off their newly acquired equipment at exhibitions but have little appreciation of what the art of photography is all about. Our annual membership feemay be only the price of a filter, but we feel we could do so much more to help people improve their results. Some say the RPS out of touch with modern photographers who take

Years in the photo industry? None! Current location? Chichester, West Sussex Last picture taken Last week of my brand-new first grandchild! When youwere younger, what did youwant to bewhen you grewup? To be a pilot, but was rejected because of colour blindness… Dogs or cats? It used to be dogs for their affection, but now cats for their cleanliness. Toast or cereal? Both, if time permits Email or phone call? Email

Our annual membership fee may be only the price of a filter, but we feel we could do so much more to help people improve their photography

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