Leeds Photographic Society was founded in 1852, 25 years after the first successful picture was produced. This in turn was a few months prior to the founding of the Royal Photographic Society. Most of the societies founded in these early days no longer exist, but The Leeds Photographic Society still survives today, making it the oldest, still active, photographic society in the world.
In those early days membership of the Society was restricted to “persons who are, or have been, practising some branch of the photographic art”. Society rules were strict and firmly adhered to and prospective members were elected by ballot by existing members, it was considered a great honour to be elected. Subscriptions were 8 shillings (40p) per annum, payable quarterly in advance. Every member had to produce an essay on a subject connected with photography, and was obliged to take an active part in the society’s activities. Visiting lecturers were fined two shillings and sixpence for non-attendance, unless at least two weeks notice in writing had been given, and the lecturer could also be fined sixpence if he was 15 minutes behind his time. Meetings were very formal affairs, dress code had to be adhered to, and members could be excluded if they broke the society rules.
Early members of the Leeds Photographic Society included a bookseller, an ironmonger, two surgeons, a merchant, an optician and probably the most popular member, a Scotch whisky merchant. In 1897-98 the Syllabus consisted of lectures, travelogues, such as “En Velo in the Pyrenees”, and practical demonstrations, for example “Platinum for beginners”. The society also ran field trips to places like Roundhay Park in Leeds.
During its centenary year in 1952 they were the hosts to the Yorkshire Photographic Union’s Annual Assembly which was opened by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal.
In 1852 the Society held its meetings in the Society’s Rooms at the Leeds Institute of Science, Art and Literature, since then it has had several meeting places and nowadays currently meets in the Hall of St Edmund’s Church, Lidgett Park Road, Roundhay, Leeds.
Since its inception the society has witnessed virtually all of the developments in photography. From glass, paper and celluloid negatives, the introduction of the Eastman Box Camera in 1888, (which opened up photography to a wider range of people), the introduction of colour film, slides, 35mm film format to the amazing developments of the modern digital cameras and computer driven image processing and printing.
Since its early days photography has been an exciting, creative and inventive pastime. It remains so today with much more waiting to be developed.
The Leeds Photographic Society archive material is now housed in the West Yorkshire Archive in Leeds, and in the National Media Museum at Bradford.
* We are grateful to current member and Past President Ray Hattrell for scanning and recovering these images.