Situating the Camera Club of Johannesburg in South African Histories of Photography 1960–1989

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
In this research report I present my dissertation together with a self-curated hard-cover book containing one hundred photographs. The two must be viewed as a single entity, with the dissertation providing the supporting evidence for the images selected. In this part of the research report, I discuss the Camera Club of Johannesburg (CCJ), focusing on the work produced by the black and white print section during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Given the progressive outlook of the leadership of the CCJ, work produced during these three decades was rarely seen at other South African clubs. The general apathy of the South African art world towards photography, combined with a sceptical view of camera club photography, resulted in these works being largely ignored. At a time when South African photography was mainly predicated on press and documentary photography, a relatively small group of dedicated photographers were aspiring to produce art with the camera. A selection of these works is shown in an accompanying hard-cover book containing 100 images curated by the author. To situate cameras clubs in the history of photography, I discuss three dominant movements: the Pictorialists, the Photo-Secessionists, and Group f/64. These movements emanated from dissenting voices within camera clubs, with Group f/64 being an example of like-minded photographers opposed to any form of manipulated photography. To highlight the difference between most South African clubs and the CCJ, I discuss the Johannesburg Photographic Society (JPS), the oldest and largest club in Johannesburg, and the Chinese Camera Club of South Africa (CCCSA), formed due to the exclusionary policies of apartheid. Both these clubs remained largely committed to Pictorialism. Both have ceased to exist. By way of contrast, I discuss three overseas clubs, each of which became highly successful by operating outside the prevailing club system to keep their work contemporary. These are the Photo Club Riga, Foto-Cine Clube Bandeirante and the Lexington Camera Club. I argue that the CCJ operated at a different level from most other clubs in South Africa, that the work produced was progressive, and where the keywords of the founding statement of the CCJ – “where originality was not stifled by conventional judging” – were prophetic.
This research report is my own unaided work. It is submitted for the degree Masters of Art in the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. It has not been submitted before for any other degree or examination in any other university.
Camera Club of Johannesburg, Amateur photography, Camera clubs, South African photography, Johannesburg Photographic Society, Chinese Camera Club of South Africa, Progressive, Leadership, Pictorialism