The question of how effective and important the various photo societies are was asked in the December issue of Professional Photographer magazine (www.professionalphotographer.co.uk). “The Accreditation Trail” was a well researched article written by Victoria Dovey. She contacted me and several other photographers to ask our opinions on the subject. Its a tricky question really as I actually have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand they do a lot for our industry but on the other they have a tendency to be very old school and I sometimes question the validity of the membership. Victoria wrote a well balanced piece and, I think, summed it up quite well. We are a pretty insular bunch in general and sometimes photographers really need some human contact with like minded people. Paul Wilkinson (great photographer!) www.paulwilkinsonphotography.co.uk, talked about this factor and how important it was as a social connector to be involved in the different societies.
I tended to come from a slightly more market led view point and was keen to point out that awards and accreditations are important to photographers and to their clients. As far as I’m concerned its a win, win situation because the photographer is motivated to be a better photographer and the client gets a better, more motivated professional…thats got to be a good thing hasn’t it? The system adopted by most societies of a ‘Licenciate’, ‘Associate’ and then the much coveted ‘Fellowship’ is a great way to drive standards up. The annual wards run by all the societies are a great way to inspire us greater heights but they also provide fantastic promotional opportunities giving you the perfect excuse to contact your client base.
So whats the problem? Well the B.I.P.P., M.P.A., S.W.P.P., A.O.P., R.P.S. (how many more letters after your name can you get?) all suffer from the same problem. They essentially are big businesses trying to accommodate a lot of different people all of whom have slightly different ideas of what is the most important aspect of the society. In general they do a difficult job and make a pretty good fist of it but all of them in decline. Memberships across the board have dropped over the past few years and there seems little that can be done about this slide. The rise of the internet beast is to blame yet again as young shooters across the globe look to YouTube and photo blogs (like this one) for inspiration and support.
Far be it from me to discourage this process but there is a definite problem here which is to do with the quality of what you are receiving. As a young up and coming photographer its important to ground yourself with good well researched information from experienced professionals. The internet appears to be the ultimate democracy but in truth it can be dominated by loud mouthed dictators spouting ill though out nonsense. Its the price we pay for an open forum and hell, I’m all for it.
I recently ran a seminar for the BIPP on marketing. The hall was full and after the event the usual scrum of attendees resulted in me speaking to one new member who was a little disgruntled. He told me that he wanted more events like this one and that he had joined the society to connect with experienced professional who could help to move his business forward in a very real way. He didn’t feel that a monthly magazine and some potential legal advise was enough. His frustration as palpable! He ended up joining my mentoring programme and after just 7 months his turnover is up by over 20%, he has a new website and his folio is completely changed..He is a very happy boy!
I’m not looking to bash the BIPP because its not just them, the others are the same. I love being a member and it would be a tragedy if they were not around but they need to wake up and start connecting with the modern world. They need to offer better value for money and then up-sell the other benefits. Easy for me to say! But isn’t that what we have all had to do in our own businesses? The world of photography has changed beyond recognition in the past 5 years so why are we still looking at the same societies. Nothing in the world stands still and if you are not moving forward you are in decline.
At the end of the day the Societies are there to help improve our business and make it better for photographers and photography in general. Its up to every one of us to realise that armchair experts are not a reliable source of wisdom and are not always the most effective way to gain knowledge. The different societies are only as good as the members that support them and that means us! make your voice heard and be part of the solution.
I, for one, happen to believe that membership of one or more of the societies is an essential ingredient for a thriving successful photographic business. If you don’t want to say R.I.P. to B.I.P.P., M.P.A., S.W.P.P., A.O.P. or R.P.S. then get up off your B.U.T.T. and join up!