Royal Photographic Society

Behind the Scenes at the Royal Photographic Society

Earlier this year the Royal Photographic Society opened its new centre for photography.

The new building in Bristol brought a public exhibition space back to RPS for the first time since 2001.

We caught up with Dr Michael Pritchard, director of education and public affairs, to find out more.

He said the new building was a ‘tangible expression’ of the society re-positioning itself a more ‘open-facing organisation’.

It allows the society to deliver its educational objectives, defined in its Royal Charter, of promoting public appreciation of photography.

“The exhibition space, education centre and resource centre are ways the building helps the RPS do this,” he says. “Although we continue to reach out across the UK with our touring exhibitions and the public events held outside of Bristol, many of which our members help deliver.”

Dr Pritchard said the reaction from members and the public had been ‘extremely positive’.

“Visitors have been impressed by the three exhibitions we have held to date and by the wider public programmes that we have been delivering since February.  

“The exhibition comments books have welcomed the RPS’ move to Bristol and have remarked on the quality of the exhibitions.

“Spectrum has helped us deliver two of these with your printing and mounting services, so thank you.”

Space Steps at RPS
Installation shot: Space Steps, RPS House, Bristol

Space Steps

One of those exhibitions is Space Steps, which runs until September 29.

Although there has been a lot of coverage commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, Space Steps looks particularly at the role of photography in the missions.

It examines and showcases the use of photography, as well as featuring the first Hasselblad camera in space.

Monica Alcazar-Duarte’s Ascension installations and augmented reality app bring a contemporary perspective.

“The public response has been amazing with older visitors recalling their own memories of the landing and younger visitors entranced by seeing pictures and reading about how the Apollo 11 mission came about,” says Dr Pritchard.

“What has been especially gratifying for me is how some younger audiences, and I am particularly thinking of school group of 14-16 year-old boys with special needs, have been enthused by seeing the exhibition which sparked questions and activities for them back in school.”

Private view at Royal Photographic Society
RPS House, Bristol, © Alice Hendy

Sugar Paper Theories

Up next on the exhibition calendar is Sugar Paper Theories.

It sees Bristol-based photographer Jack Latham, immerse himself in the most controversial murder investigation in Icelandic history – the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case.

The exhibition opens on October 12.

“For our first year we wanted to have a mix of shows that were completely different,” says Dr Pritchard.

Sugar Paper Theories will probably be the most challenging for our audiences of the four.

“The more I have worked with the photographer Jack Latham the more I appreciate how much and deeper it is, beyond the particular Icelandic crime it documents.

“It opens up bigger questions around evidence, memory and loss.

“It will especially resonate with many contemporary and younger photographers but our job is to try and get it over to wider audiences, so we have developed lots of educational resources around it.”

Space Steps at the Royal Photographic Society
Installation shot: Space Steps at RPS House, Bristol

Royal Photographic Society membership

Dr Pritchard’s background is as a photographic historian.

He joined the RPS as a schoolboy so he could access meetings of the society’s historical group in London and the RPS Collection at the Octagon, Bath.

Dr Pritchard was recruited as director-general in 2011.

He had previously held roles at Christie’s auction house and De Montfort University.

“The society is unique amongst photography organisations in that it has charitable objectives it has to deliver,” he says.

“These are to promote the public appreciation of photography, to educate members of the public and to increase the public’s knowledge and understanding of photography.

“Our members are incredibly valuable in helping to deliver this through our public programmes and in areas such as the RPS distinctions which recognise individual skills and creative attainment within photography.  

“For many of our members the opportunity to help deliver these, and to get recognition for their own skills, is what encourages them to be members, although there are, of course, a whole range of tangible benefits, not least the monthly award-winning RPS Journal – the world’s oldest photography magazine.”

Royal Photographic Society Resource Centre
RPS House, Bristol © Rebecca Faith

What’s next for RPS?

The RPS is currently in the process of finalising its exhibition programme for the next 18 months.

Dr Pritchard described it as ‘very diverse’.

It includes a show from Bruce Gilden, the society’s own IPE162 and a mix of shows – and associated public events – covering everything from pictorialism, fashion and the best of graduate work.

In addition, RPS House will be hosting the monthly Miniclick series of artist talks, symposia and much more.

There are also plans to bring back the photobook festival, BOP, in 2020 in partnership with Martin Parr Foundation.

“There’s plenty to keep all the staff busy and, more importantly, to keep the public coming back in to RPS House,” says Dr Pritchard.

Find out more

The Royal Photographic Society charity has been leading photography since 1853.

Its mission is to promote the highest standards of photography.

Find out more about membership here.

Recent blogs

It’s called Ffaswin at In Between Gallery

Verzasca Foto Festival 2019

Must-see photography in September 2019

Statement of Being