Last February, I made the long, hard & difficult decision to jump into the unknown by leaving Mid Louth Camera Club. There was a serious problem – not with the club, but within me…. I had been there for almost 4 years and knew nothing else. I really enjoyed the craic and banter with a truly great bunch of people. However, there was a piece of my heart nagging away regularly as I admired from afar the work being produced by photographers in Dundalk Photographic Society. I knew very little of the club other than every year they were amongst the top clubs in the IPF yearly finals. I regularly saw fantastic images alongside a constant stream of awards many of their members regularly achieved at national and international level.
Dundalk Photographic Society
Eventually downloading a membership form, I returned it expecting to hear nothing back for a number of years. I wrongly believed it was a “one in, one out” membership system. Within a couple of weeks, I had a mail confirming my acceptance. The last few months in Mid Louth were riddled with guilt knowing they would be the last.
Competition is very important in Dundalk Photographic Society – I’ll discuss this further down. When asked what section I wanted to compete in, I immediately replied Senior. After all, that is where I had competed in Mid Louth. What followed was a little shock to the system. I was then asked to submit a panel of 20 printed images to the selection committee who would determine if my work was strong enough to qualify. I initially thought that was a bit of a pompous attitude. When I met Damian O’Malley (Chairman) to hand over the work, I then understood why. It was simply to safe guard me from getting out of my depth and becoming frustrated as the level of competition is very tough. There are times when I view work appearing in the other sections & think to myself – “I’m glad I wasn’t competing against that tonight”.
The next thing that jumped out was their surprise that I didn’t print my own work. How could I go through so much effort to create an image and then hand the final output to a 3rd party who could affect the final quality? I had always wanted to print myself so this forced me to bite the bullet. Buying a cheap second hand Epson 4800, it was time to learn how to print & quickly. I won’t go into the detail here, but printing alone has helped me identify several weaknesses in my work and improve them.
A couple of weeks later, I got news that my panel had been deemed good enough to compete in the senior section. 25% of me was delighted, 75% was terrified at what lay ahead.
Nearing its 40th year of existence, Dundalk Photographic Society meet every Thursday night at 8pm above McGeoughs bar in the centre of Dundalk. I already knew some of the members to say hello to and have a small chit-chat from various functions over the years.
Even so, my 1st night was a nervous one. I sat at the back quickly realizing I wasn’t alone. There were another 5 or 6 new members who all coincidently picked the back row. Kicking off at 8pm, there is a break at 9 for tea & biscuits and immediately the established members were approaching us newbies to welcome us to the club and involve us in conversations. By close of business, I was comfortable enough to make my way downstairs to the pub….
Rightly or wrongly, I signed myself up for the club weekend to Donegal on my 1st night. In hindsight, it was one of the best things I’ve done all year. I got to know those on the trip better. I felt more at ease. It can be hard to get to know people in two-hour meetings where everyone sit’s listening to a presenter or judge.
This is a very, very social club!
In my opinion, the pub afterwards is the heart and soul of the organization. It is here I learnt most & picked up tips & idea’s this year. The craic is great and the conversations can get deep or silly depending on the night. In the clubroom, I overhear conversations about equipment. In the pub, it’s hard to ignore the conversations about creativity, inspiration and idea’s. It is here you ask the questions about technique, processing and progression. Questions that don’t want for many good answer’s. Members go out of their way to help & encourage each other and don’t appear to hold many secrets back. A double-edged sword, the pub is the only negative to the club! Why? Because I go to work knackered the next morning. It’s not uncommon to stay talking until 1am.
The Right Choice
It was at the Christmas party when it drunkenly hit me out of the blue. I had made the right choice. I was with very like-minded people & was going to fit in here. Being new to the club, I had played the Chris Kringle gift cautiously. As I saw the other presents being unwrapped, I knew a lot of these people had a similar sense of humour to me. I can’t disclose any more than that in the fear that some readers may be easily offended!!!
What is good for the members, is good for the club!! The individual successes of all members is hugely encouraged and acknowledged! Not a month has passed without a presentation to members who have had individual achievements. Not knowing it when I entered, Dundalk Photographic Society were the club champions of the PSA in 2017. The club encourage all members to enter images for selection in this competition. The strongest images go forward regardless of who’s submission they are. Long-standing membership & reputation stand for nothing – the images do all the talking.
As mentioned above, competition within Dundalk Photographic Society is a huge component of club life. There is a competition every month requiring up to 3 mono & 3 colour images. 6 competitions a season = 36 high quality images per member. That is no mean feat, no matter what level you compete at.
During the competitions, the atmosphere is electric. You could literally hear a pin drop in the room. Entry is not compulsory, but it is encouraged. Nobody enters work to be an also ran and we all try extremely hard to win image of the month. The range & quality of varying styles is huge. I honestly don’t envy any judge who visits and then picks one image as their favourite. Regardless of result, I have yet to hear any backbiting from members about a winner which is a phenomenal achievement in any club within such a competitive environment.
The competitive element is not for everybody and that is perfectly fine. There are many more presentation nights from photographers near & far. The quality of speakers invited is top notch and worth the annual membership alone.
Having done relatively o.k. on my 1st night of competition, I remember getting back into the car with a feeling of sheer despair. The quality of work on display was the strongest I had ever seen. I’d gotten myself in out of my depth. There was no way I could keep this up for another 5 months. Sink or swim time!! Needing 36 competition worthy images really pushed & challenged me. I got out far more with the camera and tried new styles of work. Some paid off, some failed miserably but I enjoyed every second of it.
The competitive element may not be to everybody’s taste. A poor review needs to be taken for what it is – only one person’s opinion. Another review can be very different on another night. We all want to win, but it can’t be taken to heart when you don’t. Dust yourself off and try hard again the following month. Personally, I feel the competition helped my work improve this year which is why I joined in the first place. It was by no means easy, but it was worthwhile.
Somehow, this club seems to have managed something very elusive in so many other organisations across many other sports & hobbies. Although very tough going, the competitive element here appears to bring out the best in most members pushing themselves to get better. Again they genuinely encourage & congratulate each other whilst vowing to themselves that they will win next month. This atmosphere is as rare as hen’s teeth.
Being a back bencher, it would be easy to completely overlook the effort that goes in to making the smooth running of this organization look so easy. As with most organizations, there is a backroom committee who work tirelessly behind the scenes making things happen. Most of us probably don’t even understand a fraction of the work put in behind our backs without any thanks or reward.
Personally, it was the right decision for me. Maybe all written above is viewed through rose-tinted glasses. But, joining Dundalk Photographic Society has re-invigorated my photography. I have enjoyed every second of my time there to date especially to social side. Coming close to the end of the season, I’m going to miss Thursday nights in the pub. They will no doubt be replaced with Thursday nights shooting. I’m already thinking of next year’s submissions. There is one thing for certain – doing the same old, same old won’t work as I have no doubt the level of quality from all involved will probably rise a little next year.