Suvarna Garge (Editor)

Royal Photographic Society

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20 January 1853



Bath, United Kingdom

Chief Executive
Dr Michael Pritchard

Royal Photographic Society

Universa Vita Percepta (All life perceived)

The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, 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 at the time. In 1874 it was renamed the Photographic Society of Great Britain, and from 1894 it became known as The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. A registered charity since 1962, 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. 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. 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 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.


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, although it had a break between 1878 and 1881 when it ceased to exist independently. 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.

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. 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:

  • 1899–1909 – 66 Russell Square, London.
  • 1909–1940 – 35 Russell Square, London.
  • 1940–1968 – Princes Gate, South Kensington, London.
  • 1968–1970 – 1 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London (temporary premises).
  • 1970–1979 – 14 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London
  • 1980–2003 – The Octagon, Milsom Street, Bath.
  • 2004–present – Fenton House, 122 Wells Road, Bath; officially opened 16 February 2005.
  • 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.


    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. 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. 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. 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.


    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 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. 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.

    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. 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:

  • Pictorial Group (1919)
  • Science and Technical Group (1920)
  • Kinematograph Group (1923)
  • Colour Group (1927)
  • As of 2016 there are fourteen groups

    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):

  • LRPS: Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society introduced in 1972
  • ARPS: Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society introduced in 1924
  • FRPS: Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society introduced in 1895
  • 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;

  • QIS; Qualified Imaging Scientist and Licentiate (QIS LRPS) of the Royal Photographic Society (Level 1)
  • GIS; Graduate Imaging Scientist and Associate (GIS ARPS) of the Royal Photographic Society (Level 2)
  • AIS; Accredited Imaging Scientist and Associate (AIS ARPS) of the Royal Photographic Society (Level 3)
  • ASIS; Accredited Senior Imaging Scientist and Fellow (ASIS FRPS) of the Royal Photographic Society (Level 4)
  • Exhibitions

    The Society has held an annual exhibition since 1854. 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.

    The highest award of the RPS is the Progress Medal, which was instituted in 1878.

    The Society's other annual awards are the: Centenary Medal, Award for Outstanding Service to Photography, the Combined Royal Colleges Medal, the Education Award, the Fenton Award (and Honorary Life Membership), the Hood Medal, the J Dudley Johnston Medal, the Lumière Award, RPS Member’s Award (and Honorary Life Membership), the Selwyn Award, the Vic Odden Award, and The Bill Wisden Fellowship of the Year.

    Progress Medal

    The Progress 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. Recipients have been:

    Centenary Medal

    According to the Society's website this award is "in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography". Recipients have been:

    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." The recipients are:

  • 2009 – Dewi Lewis
  • 2010 – Michael G. Wilson
  • 2011 – Philippe Garner
  • 2012 – Kathy Ryan
  • 2013 – Weston Naef
  • 2014 – Terence Pepper
  • 2015 – Maria Morris
  • 2016 – William Ewing
  • 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".

  • 2005 – Simon Brown
  • 2006 – Professor John Priestley
  • 2007 – Nancy Durrell McKenna
  • 2008 – Professor Francis Ring, ASIS, FRPS
  • 2009 – Catherine Draycott
  • 2010 – Spike Walker
  • 2011 – Northumbria Healthcare and Northumbria University Arts Partnership 2012 Micrima and The University of Bristol Microwave Imaging Group
  • 2013 – Professor Anders Persson, MD, PhD
  • 2014 – Emeritus Professor Adolf Friedrich Fercher
  • 2015 – Dr Gavriel J. Idann, D.Sc.
  • 2016 – Professor Caroline Wilkinson
  • Education Award

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

  • 2011 – Paul Delmar, who taught Press Photography and Photojournalism at Norton College, Sheffield, for 30 years
  • 2012 – Anne Williams, Programme Director for Photography at London College of Communication
  • 2013 – Conrad Tracy
  • 2014 – Corinne Noordenbos
  • 2015 – Professor David Alan Mellor
  • 2016 – Professor Paul Hill MBE
  • 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.

  • 1980 – E. J. Moorfoot, R. Boyes, K. Warr
  • 1981 – C. Morris
  • 1982 – E. Nicholson
  • 1983 – L. Bowcock, Sir George and Lady Pollock, Eve Ritscher
  • 1984 – Sam Welford
  • 1985 – John Bardsley
  • 1986 – R. J. Cox
  • 1987 – J. D. J. Cole, R. H. Mason, G Smith
  • 1988 – R Brightman, Herbert Dennis
  • 1989 – David Dearnley, Pat Hallett, Prof M. Harker, E. Pothecary
  • 1990 – Arthur Downes
  • 1991 – Anne Bolt, Barry Mead
  • 1992 – Peter Wilkinson, Desmond Groves, Kay Gordon, David Nellist
  • 1993 – Edward Bowman, Hilary Graves, Matheson Beaumont
  • 1994 – Margaret Hodge, Mervyn Leonardo de Calcina-Goff
  • 1995 – Gustav Ahrens, Colin Balls, H. S. Fry
  • 1996/7 – Brian Bower, Dr Michael R. Pointer, Anthony J. Waterlow
  • 1998 – Dr Michael Austin, Tony Hilton, Tan Lip Seng
  • 1999 – Dr Peter Agius, Dr Akira Aoki, David Tay Poey Cher
  • 2000 – Joan Wakelin, Jon Richardson
  • 2001 – John Long, Ossie Morris, Bill Wisden
  • 2002 – Bryn Campbell, Roger Reynolds, Dr Michael Christianson, Roy Green
  • 2003 – Jane H. Black, Ron Frampton, Robert F. Moore, Jerry Wooldridge
  • 2004 – Andy Callow, D. H. O. John, Keith Lawrey, Dr A. Sethna
  • 2005 – Sandy Cleland FRPS, Richard Sadler FRPS, Margaret Salisbury FRPS, Keith Suddaby FRPS
  • 2006 – Andy Golding, Professor Mark Haworth-Booth Hon FRPS, Alan Millward FRPS, Tony Troman ARPS
  • 2007 – Carol Agar, John Hankin LRPS, Dr Robin Jenkin ARPS, Brian Steptoe FRPS, Tony Wharton FRPS
  • 2008 – John Chamberlin FRPS, Peter Sephton Coles FRPS, Tom Dodd FRPS, John Page HonFRPS
  • 2009 – Sara Beaugeard, Robert F. Rowe, Nicholas J. Scott, Roger Tooth, Jeff Vickers MBE
  • 2010 – Ian Bailey LRPS, Julian Comrie FRPS, Professor Ralph Jacobson ASIS, HonFRPS, David J. Wood ARPS
  • 2011 – Des Clinton FRPS, Jim Moreland FRPS, Professor Francis Ring ASIS, FRPS, Dr Barry Senior Hon FRPS
  • 2012 – Philip Ellis ASIS FRPS, Dr Michael Hallett FRPS, Jack Jackson FRPS, Ray Spence FRPS
  • 2013 – Dr Afzal Ansary ASIS FRPS, Alan Elliott ARPS, Dawn Osborne FRPS, Dr Tim Rudman FRPS
  • 2014 – Andy Finney, Sue Harper, Jenny Leathes ARPS, Robert Tapper ISIS FRPS
  • 2015 – Mark Buckley-Sharp ARPS, Anne Cassidy FRPS, Paul Goodman, Leo Palmer FRPS
  • 2016 – John Bebbington FRPS, Professor Hermon Dowling ARPS, Professor Paul Hill MBE, Professor Andrea Liggins ASICI FRPS, John R Simpson ARPS
  • 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.The recipients have been:

    J Dudley Johnston Award / Medal

    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:

  • 1998 – Larry Schaaf
  • 1999 – Vicki Goldberg
  • 2000 – Colin Westerbeck
  • 2001 – Bill Jay
  • 2002 – Dr Mike Weaver
  • 2003 – Dr Sara Stevenson
  • 2004 – Colin Harding (Photohistory) and Val Williams (Curatorship)
  • 2005 – Ian Jeffrey (Photohistory) and David Mellor (Curatorship)
  • 2006 – Gerhard Steidl (Photohistory) and Martin Harrison (Curatorship)
  • 2007 – Roger Taylor (Photohistory)
  • 2008 – Gail Buckland
  • 2009 – Matthew Butson
  • 2010 – A. D. Coleman
  • 2011 – Sean O'Hagan
  • 2012 – Anthony Bannon
  • 2013 - Martin Barnes
  • 2014 - Dr David Campany
  • 2015 - Roger Hargreaves
  • Lumière Award

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

  • 1999 – Jack Cardiff
  • 2000 – Alan Parker
  • 2001 – Freddie Francis
  • 2002 – William MacQuitty
  • 2003 – Sir Ridley Scott
  • 2004 – Seamus McGarvey
  • 2005 – Peter Lord, Nick Park, David Sproxton (Aardman)
  • 2006 – John Mathieson
  • 2007 – Martyn Colbeck
  • 2008 – Giles Nuttgens
  • 2009 – Roger Deakins
  • 2010 – Chris Menges
  • 2011 – Anthony Dod Mantle
  • 2012 – Barry Ackroyd
  • 2013 – John de Borman
  • 2014 – Robbie Ryan
  • 2015 – Dick Pope BSC
  • 2016 - Emmanuel Lubezki A.S.C., A.M.C
  • RPS Member's Award (and Honorary Life Membership)

    An award, established in 2005, given to an ordinary member who, in the opinion of Council, has shown extraordinary support for The Society over a sustained period.

  • 2005 – Frederick Smith, ARPS
  • 2006 – Matti Selanne, ARPS
  • 2007 – John Arnold Hubbard, FRPS
  • 2008 – Elaine Herbert, ARPS
  • 2009 – Ken Huscroft, Harry Miller
  • 2010 – Hoosain M. Ebrahim, ARPS; Charles Mahnken, ARPS
  • 2011 – Sylvia B. Jones
  • 2012 – Mick Medley, LRPS
  • 2013 – Carol Palmer, ARPS
  • 2014 – Judith Parry, Patricia Ann Ruddle, ARPS
  • 2015 – Alexander Melrose
  • 2016 - Mary O’Connor LRPS
  • 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.

    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". 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. Recipients have been:

  • 2012 - Dawn McKeown
  • 2013 – Paul Walker
  • 2014 – Clare Acford
  • 2015 – Yap Kok Hing
  • 2016 – Tony Bramley FRPS
  • Colin Ford Award

    The RPS established the annual Colin Ford Award in 2003 for contributions to curatorship. It was 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. It has not been offered since 2015. Recipients were:

    Davies Medal

    The Davies Medal was instituted in 1998 and was awarded until 2015 "for a significant contribution in the digital field of imaging science". Sponsored by Kodak European Research and Development, the medal was in memory of Dr E. R. Davies, who was a former Research Director of their Harrow Laboratories. Recipients were:

    Saxby Medal / Saxby Award

    An award, no longer awarded, which was given 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".


    Royal Photographic Society Wikipedia

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