Barking Photographic Society – from dark room to digital

PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:51 21 May 2015

Annual presentation of the Barking Photographic Society, 1976.

Annual presentation of the Barking Photographic Society, 1976.


From dark room days to the digital age, the Barking Photographic Society has developed its own way of cataloguing the past and present.

In the 68 years since its foundation, the society has captured everything from the Barking Town Show to meetings with the mayor and Masai warriors. Its collective archive lends a glamorous gloss to a bygone era, including shots of celebrated photographer David Bailey giving a talk to the society in the 1970s. But the focus is not solely on recording the area.

“The borough’s not very photogenic, so we don’t actually have very many pictures taken here,” chairman William Smith told the Post.

“There aren’t any crashing waves in Dagenham,” the 75-year-old Barking resident adds wryly, referring to the arresting photo by secretary Michael Eaton, No Ferries Today, which features in the group’s upcoming exhibition at Valence House.

“When I joined it was all film photos, and very much black and white. Then colour came in, and people were printing their own images, followed by digital which came with great speed. With a few exceptions, almost everyone takes digital photos now.”

Founded in 1947, the club started in a member’s front room with a small but enthusiastic group of amateur photographers.

Growing demand saw the group move to the old library in Ripple Road, then settling in the 1960s at Eastbury Manor House.

It’s been more than 40 years since William joined the club, when the focus was on the dark room rather than digital manipulation. “You can never take that away – when you’re developing that image and you see it in the dark, it’s a joy,” he says of the darkroom.

“It’s different today, but you develop new skills. There’s still a gift involved – not only in developing and printing of the image, but in the taking of the shot. You need a good eye, you need enthusiasm and you need to enjoy doing it.”

The 30-strong group appears to have adapted well to the digital era.

“We still stick to the same principles of amateur photographers who enjoy taking pictures. We are recognised as a really friendly club. Photography in Great Britain is massive, and we have competitions with many of the clubs in Essex.”

Analogue snaps may be fading into the past, but the art retains the ability to surprise.

“With photography there’s no set subject. You can take a photo of a million different things. When we take them to the field there’ll be no two same images from one trip,” adds William.

The Barking Photographic Society exhibition runs from Saturday, May 23 to July 18 at Valence House, Becontree Avenue, Dagenham, 10am-4pm, Monday to Saturday. A free tuition open day on June 7 at Eastbury Manor House, Barking, from noon-5pm, is open to all.

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