Royal Photographic Society

The Royal Photographic Society
Motto Universa Vita Percepta (All life perceived)
Formation 20 January 1853
Headquarters Bath, United Kingdom
Dr Michael Pritchard

The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain,[1] commonly known as the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), is one of the world's oldest photographic societies. It was founded in London, England in 1853 as The Photographic Society of London with the objective of promoting the art and science of photography, and in 1854 received Royal patronage from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. A change to the society's name to reflect the Royal patronage was, however, not considered expedient for the present time. In 1874 it was renamed the Photographic Society of Great Britain, and from 1894 it eventually became known as The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. In July 2004, The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain was granted a Royal charter recognising its eminence in the field of photography as a learned society and since 1962 a registered charity.[1][2][3][4] For most of its history the Society was based at various premises in London. It moved to Bath in 1979, and since 2004 its headquarters has been at Fenton House in Bath, England. Membership is international and open to anyone with an interest in photography.

In addition to standard membership, the Society also offers three levels of distinctions which set recognised standards of achievement throughout the world, and can be applied for by both members and non-members: Licentiate, Associate and Fellow, in all aspects of photography and vocational qualifications in the areas of Creative Industries and Imaging Science.[5] It runs an extensive programme of more than 300 events throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, through local groups and special interest groups. The Society acts as a national voice for photographers and for photography more generally and it represents these interests on a range of governmental and national bodies dealing with areas as diverse as copyright and photographers' rights. The Society's collection of historic photographs, photographic equipment and books[6][7] was deposited for the nation at the National Media Museum in Bradford in 2003, but most of the collection is moving to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.[8]


Charles Thurston Thompson: Exhibition of the Photographic Society, London, 1858

Photographers were slow in coming together and forming clubs and societies. The first was an informal grouping the Edinburgh Calotype Club around 1843 and the first photographic society, the Leeds Photographic Society in 1852 and claims to be the oldest photographic society in the world,[9] although it had a break between 1878 and 1881 when it ceased to exist independently.[10] In other countries the Société française de photographie was founded in Paris in 1854.

Founding and early history

The catalyst behind the formation of The Photographic Society was Roger Fenton. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had raised public awareness of photography and in December 1852 an exhibition of nearly 800 photographs at The Society of Arts had brought together amateur and professional photographers. The inaugural meeting of The Photographic Society was held on 20 January 1853. Fenton became the Society's first secretary, a position he held for three years.

Modernisation and the 1970s

As Jane Fletcher has argued the changing nature of photography and photographic education in the early 1970s forced The Society to modernise and to become more relevant to British photography. An internal review led to constitutional changes, the introduction of a new distinction called the Licentiate in 1972 and six new specialist groups were established.[11]

Bath Project

The rising cost of maintaining The Society's premises in South Audley Street, London, eventually led the Society's Executive Committee to look for alternative premises. The Council approved at a meeting on 1 April 1977 a move to Bath and the establishment of a National Centre of Photography to house the Society's headquarters and collection. An appeal for £300,000 was launched in the summer of 1978 for the funds needed to convert The Octagon and adjacent buildings in Milsom Street, Bath.[12] The inaugural exhibition opened in May 1980 with the building officially opened by Princess Margaret in April 1981.


Although the Society's inaugural meeting took places at the Society of Arts in London, it was some time before the Society had its own permanent home. It held functions as a number of addresses, some concurrently for different types of meetings.

Premises used were: Royal Society of Arts, John Adam Street; 20 Bedford Street, 4 Trafalgar Square, 21 Regent Street, 28 George Street (Hanover Square), 1 Coventry Street; Kings College, Strand; 9 Conduit Street, 5A Pall Mall East, London - used for certain meetings until 1899; 50 Great Russell Street; and 12 Hanover Square, London.

The Society's premises were:

Coat of arms

The Society's coat of arms is made up of the following elements:

Arms: These elements represent the basis of black and white photography, and that photographic images are perceived through the eyes with all light and energy ultimately deriving from the sun.

Crest: The concept of the lynx on the crest derives from the fact that the lynx, in mythological terms, is said to have the power of being "all seeing" - into and through substances - and therefore is appropriate to photography and imaging. The device held by the lynx represents both the basis of photography - the rare and normal crystalline habits of silver halides - and commemorates the historic time of The Society at the Octagon in Bath.

Supporters: The lions on either side of the shield with their ciphers (V and A) pay tribute to our historical connections and Royal Patronage dating back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The lions are based on those on Prince Albert's garter stallplate at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Motto: The motto translates to 'All life perceived' to indicate that the ability and potential for photography to observe and record (and thereby help us to understand) so much of that which constitutes our life.

Badge: The badge is based on the device held by the lynx (described above) which in turn is taken from the old brand of The Society and it also incorporates and ancient royal crown.

Collection and archive


The Society had collected photographs and items of historical importance on an ad hoc basis but there was no formal collecting policy until John Dudley Johnston was appointed Honorary Curator a post he held between 1924 and 1955.[14] Up to Johnston's appointment the collection has largely concentrated on technical advances of photography and Johnston began to concentrate on adding pictorial photography to the collection. On Johnston's death in 1955 his role of Honorary Curator was taken over by his wife Florence and a succession of paid and unpaid staff including Gail Buckland, Carolyn Bloore, Arthur Gill, Valerie Lloyd, and Brian Coe, with Professor Margaret Harker as Honorary Curator over a long period. Pam Roberts was appointed curator, a position she held until the collection was closed in 2001 pending its transfer to the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television (NMPFT) in 2002.[15] The move was supported by the Head of the museum, Amanda Nevill who had been The Society's Secretary in the 1990s.

By 1953 the number of items in the Society's Collection had reached 'upwards' of 3000 items.[16] At the time of the Collection's transfer to the NMPFT, now the National Media Museum, it consisted of some 270,000 photographic objects, over 6000 items of photographic equipment, 13,000 books, 13,000 bound periodicals, and 5000 other photography-related documents.

The Tyng Collection owned by the RPS is a collection of outstanding pictorial photography started in 1927 by an American philanthropist and a Society member, Stephen H. Tyng. He established a foundation to promote and recognise photographic work of outstanding pictorial merit. The first colour print to be accepted into the Tyng Collection, in 1960, was "Madrasi Fishermen" taken by Dr S. D. Jouhar FRPS FPSA during his six-month trip to India in 1959.[17]


The Society's early records, Council, Committee and Meeting Minute books, are held with the Society's Collection at the National Media Museum where they are available to the public. More recent Council and committee minutes are retained by the Society in Bath. There is no published or online record of former or current members of the Society. Occasional lists of members were published by the Society up the 1890s when lists were issued more regularly, from the 1930s membership lists were issued periodically and are now not issued. New members have usually been recorded in the Photographic Journal. There is a project to publish an online searchable database of members from 1853-1900. This project has been undertaken by Dr Michael Pritchard and will be published by De Montfort University's photographic history research centre[18] The Society has a card index of members from the late 1930s-1980s which it will search on request and may also be able to assist with membership enquiries between 1900 and the 1930s.[19] Current membership data is held in a computer database and remains confidential.


From the Society's formation it has published a journal and other publications have been issued over the years.

The Photographic Journal

The Society's journal was original called The Journal of the Photographic Society of London and for most of its existence has simply been called The Photographic Journal, it is now called RPS Journal. It has been published continuously since 1853 making it the UK's oldest photographic periodical. The journal, particularly in its early years was read and distributed beyond the Society's membership. Past editors have included Arthur Henfrey, Hugh Welch Diamond, William de Wiveleslie Abney, H. H. Blacklock, and more recently Jack Schofield and David Land. The current editor is Clare Harris.

The Imaging Science Journal

The Society publishes a peer-reviewed journal devoted to imaging science and technology, The Imaging Science Journal (ISG), previously known as the Journal of Photographic Science. The ISJ is now published on behalf of The Society by Maney Publishing in print and digital versions.[20]

The Year's Photography

The Year's Photography was published annually by the Society from 1922 until at least 1961. The flyleaf of the 1957 edition states: "This edition contains a selection from all the exhibitions held in 1956 under the Society's auspices which contained pictures suitable for reproduction There are also review of artistic photography and of the nature exhibition." The publication gives a broad overview of the state of British amateur and professional photography during the year.

Other publications

Over the years the Society has published a number of one-off publications often in partnership with commercial publishers. These include John Wall's Directory of British Photographic Collections in conjunction with Heinemann (1977), Roger Reynolds (ed.), Portfolio One (2007) and Roger Reynolds (ed.), Portfolio Two (2010). The Society publishes an annual International Print Exhibition catalogue and increasingly publishes digital catalogues of its exhibitions.


There are no restrictions on membership which is international and includes amateur and professional photographers through to photographic scientists and those involved in exhibiting, curating and writing about photography, as well as those with a general interest in the medium.[21] Many of the great names in photographic history as well as many well-known photographers today have been members.

Special interest groups

The Society established special interest groups to cater for specific interests within the membership. These have included:

As of 2016 there are fourteen groups [24]

Distinctions and qualifications

Until 1895 membership was limited simply to 'members' with some minor distinctions for those living overseas, In that year the Society introduced a new membership category of Fellow and it now offers (from lowest to highest distinction):

These require the submission of evidence - photographs or written - which is assessed by competent panels before they are awarded by the Society's Council.

In addition the Society's Imaging Scientist Qualifications provide a structure leading to professional qualifications for engineers, scientists and technologists whose professional activities are concerned with quantitative or mechanic aspects of imaging systems or their applications. These are broken down into four levels;


The Society has held an annual exhibition since 1854.[25] The Society now holds an annual International Print Exhibition, which tours the United Kingdom, an annual International Projected Image Exhibition which tours; a Members' Exhibition and Science exhibition; and monthly exhibitions of members' work at Fenton House.


The Society runs more than 300 workshops and lectures throughout the UK that are open to members and non-members. Many are held at the RPS headquarters in Bath and range from an Introduction to Digital Photography to Plant and Garden Photography.

Awards and medals

Each year the Society presents a series of awards to photographers and other individuals in photography. The recipient receives a medal.

Progress Medal

The highest award of the RPS is the Progress Medal, which was instituted in 1878.[26] The medal is awarded in recognition of any invention, research, publication or other contribution which has resulted in an important advance in the scientific or technological development of photography or imaging in the widest sense. It also carries with it an Honorary Fellowship of The Society.[27]

Other annual awards

The Society's other annual awards are the: Centenary,[28] Award for Outstanding Service to Photography,[29] the Colin Ford,[30] the Combined Royal Colleges,[31] the Davies,[32] the Education,[33] the Fenton (and Honorary Life Membership),[34] the Hood,[35] the J Dudley Johnston,[36] the Lumière,[37] RPS Member’s Award (and Honorary Life Membership),[38] the Saxby,[39] the Selwyn,[40] the Vic Odden,[41] and The Bill Wisden Fellowship of the Year.[42]

Centenary Medal

According to the Society's website this award is "in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography".[28] The recipients are:

Award for Outstanding Service to Photography

According to the Society's website this award "carries with it an Honorary Fellowship of The Society. It recognises major sustained, outstanding and influential contributions to the advancement of Photography and/or Imaging in their widest meanings."[29] The recipients are:

Colin Ford Award

The RPS established the annual Colin Ford Award in 2003 for contributions to curatorship.[30] It is named after the first director of the UK's National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum), in Bradford, Colin Ford CBE.

Combined Royal Colleges Medal

Established in 1958 by the RPS in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, this medal is awarded for "an outstanding contribution to the advancement and/or application of medical photography or the wider field of medical imaging".[31]

Davies Medal

The Davies Medal was instituted in 1998 and is awarded "for a significant contribution in the digital field of imaging science". Sponsored by Kodak European Research and Development, the medal is in memory of Dr E. R. Davies, who was a former Research Director of their Harrow Laboratories. Recipients are:[32]

Education Award

According to the Society's website this award "is given for outstanding achievement or sustained contribution in photographic education".[33] The recipients are:

Fenton Medal / Fenton Award (and Honorary Life Membership)

This award, established in 1980 and named after Roger Fenton, one of the RSP's founders, is made for an outstanding contribution to the work of The Royal Photographic Society. Usually, up to four Fenton Medals are awarded each year and since 1998 this award carries Honorary Membership of the RPS.[34]

Hood Medal

This medal is awarded "for a body of photographic work produced to promote or raise awareness of an aspect of public benefit or service". It was instituted in 1933 when Harold Hood FRPS offered to present an annual medal for photography with a particular emphasis on work for public service.[35] The recipients have been:

  • 1933 – G. Aubourne Clarke
  • 1935 – Edwin H. Land
  • 1936 – J. Crowther Cos
  • 1948 – J. W. Cottingham
  • 1939 – J. A. Fairfax-Fozzard
  • 1941 – H. Bedford Lemere
  • 1942 – Basil Hill
  • 1945 – Margaret F. Harker
  • 1946 – J. Crowther Cos
  • 1947 – S. H. Thorpe
  • 1948 – Margaret F. Harker
  • 1949 – W. Mortensen
  • 1950 – L. M. Condax
  • 1951 – Institute of Ophthalmology (Department of Medical Illustration)
  • 1956 – A. Faulkner Taylor
  • 1957 – Clive Cadwallader
  • 1958 – Maurice Broomfield
  • 1959 – E. Victor Willmott
  • 1960 – Walter Nurnberg
  • 1961 – Alan S. Marshall
  • 1962 – Adolf Morath
  • 1964 – Gordon Clemetson
  • 1966 – T. C. Dodds
  • 1968 – W. H. Baddeley
  • 1970 – K. G. Moreman
  • 1971 – Stephen Dalton
  • 1972 – Pat Whitehouse
  • 1973 – John Chittock
  • 1974 – R. M. Callender
  • 1975 – Heather Angel
  • 1976 – Ronald Smith
  • 1977 – Jacques Cousteau
  • 1978 – Lord Snowdon
  • 1979 – Richard Attenborough
  • 1980 – Harold Evans
  • 1981 – Freddie Reed
  • 1982 – Brian Tremain
  • 1983 – John Webster
  • 1984 – Brian Coe
  • 1985 – Leslie Ryder
  • 1986 – Zoe Dominic
  • 1987 – Mark Haworth-Booth
  • 1988 – Clifford Bestall
  • 1989 – Colin Ford
  • 1990 – Dr Mike Ware
  • 1992 – Llanfranco Colombo
  • 1993 – Dr Karl Steinorth
  • 2003 – Joop Berendsen, Tom Gatsonides, Ted Janssen
  • 2004 – Mark Holborn
  • 2005 – Mike Birbeck, FRPS
  • 2006 – Ron Smith
  • 2007 – Mark Sealy
  • 2008 – Gina Glover
  • 2009 – François Hébel
  • 2010 – Tiffany Fairey, Anna Blackman
  • 2011 – Edmund Clark
  • 2012 – Marcus Bleasdale
  • 2013 – Derek Kendall
  • 2014 – James Balog
  • 2015 – Jean-Jacques Naudet

J Dudley Johnston Award / Medal

J. Dudley Johnston
(photo by Franz Ziegler, 1929)

According to the Society's website this is an "award for major achievement in the field of photographic criticism or the history of photography. To be awarded for sustained excellence over a period of time, or for a single outstanding publication". The recipients are:

Lumière Award

The Lumière Award is given for major achievement in British cinematography, video or animation.[37]

RPS Member's Award (and Honorary Life Membership)

Saxby Medal / Saxby Award

An award for achievement in the field of three-dimensional imaging, endowed by Graham Saxby Hon FRPS "in appreciation of the benefits of 50 years membership of The Society".[39]

Selwyn Award

This award is intended for those under-35 years who have conducted successful science-based research connected with imaging. Sponsored by the Imaging Science Group of the RSP, it was introduced in 1994 in memory of eminent photographic scientist E. W. H. Selwyn, who was the recipient of the Progress Medal in 1971 and the Williamson Research Award in 1936.[40]

Vic Odden Award

According to the Society's website this is an "award offered for a notable achievement in the art of photography by a British photographer aged 35 or under, endowed in memory of Vic Odden".[41] Recipients of the Vic Odden Award:

The Bill Wisden Fellowship of the Year

The Fellowship of the Year, inaugurated in 2012, was named after Bill Wisden MBE HonFRPS for his 50-plus years service to the RSP's Distinctions. It is awarded for the most outstanding Fellowship of the year as decided by the Fellowship Board of The Society from more than 200 applications.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Privy Council Office - Record of Charters Granted". Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  2. "History - RPS". Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  3. "Find charities: 1107831 - THE ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN". Charity Commission. Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  4. "Find charities: 212684 - THE ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN - 1853". Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  5. "About Distinctions - RPS". Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  6. Royal Photographic Society, Photogenic. From the Collection of the Royal Photographic Society, London: Scriptum Editions, 2001.
  8. Brown, Mark (2016-02-01). "V&A to hold world's largest collection on art of photography". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  9. The Société héliographique was established in Paris in 1851.
  10. John Ferguson. "". Retrieved 2014-08-09.
  11. Fletcher, Jane, '"Un Embarras de Richesses": Making the Most of the Royal Photographic Society Collection, 1970-1980', Photography & Culture, vol. 3., no. 2. (July 2010), pp. 133-152.
  12. Fletcher, Jane, '"Un Embarras de Richesses": Making the Most of the Royal Photographic Society Collection, 1970-1980', Photography & Culture, vol. 3., no. 2 (July 2010), pp. 148–149.
  13. The Photographic Journal, May 1940, p. 135
  14. Roberts, Pam, The Royal Photographic Society Collection. A companion volume to vol. 134, no. 10, of The Photographic Journal, p. 4.
  16. Wratten, I. D., 'The Presidential Address', The Photographic Journal, January 1953, p. 5.
  17. Photographic Society of America Journal, Vol. 29, No. 4, April 1963, p. 12.
  19. "Requests may be directed to the Director-General of the Society in Bath". Retrieved 2014-08-09.
  20. Maney Online.
  22. The Photographic Journal, May 1925, p. 272.
  23. Provisionally formed 27 February 1927. The Photographic Journal, May 1928, p. 222.
  24. "Groups". Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  25. See and for a list and searchable database of exhibitions and exhibitors from 1854-1915.
  26. "Progress Medal". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  27. "Awards". RPS. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  28. 1 2 "Centenary Medal". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  29. 1 2 "Outstanding Service". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  30. 1 2 "Colin Ford Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  31. 1 2 "Combined Royal Colleges Medal". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  32. 1 2 "Davies Medal". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  33. 1 2 "Education Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  34. 1 2 "Fenton Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  35. 1 2 "Hood Medal". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  36. "J Dudley Johnston Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  37. 1 2 "Lumière Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  38. "Members' Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  39. 1 2 "Saxby Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  40. 1 2 "Selwyn Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  41. 1 2 "Vic Odden Award". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  42. "The Bill Wisden Fellowship of the Year". RPS. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  43. "The Macallan Royal Photographic Society Awards 2011". Royal Photographic Society. 18 July 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2014. New for 2011 is the Education Award, for outstanding achievement or sustained contribution in photographic education, which goes to Paul Delmar, who taught Press Photography and Photojournalism at Norton College Sheffield for 30 years

Further reading

There is no published history of the Society but the following provide historical background and partial histories mainly of the early history of the Society.

External links

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