As the Gwent Photographic Society celebrates its 40th year, CIARAN KELLY finds out more about the success of the club, the members and their work.

2015 is a momentous year for the Gwent Photographic Society.

Celebrating its 40th year, the club is under the stewardship of a new chairman, Stephen James, and is looking at ways of increasing its membership – which currently stands at around 45 members.

The club prides itself on the variety of photographic activities it offers whether it is monthly competitions, guest speakers or field trips. Previous outdoor visits have included trips to Tredegar House and Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

The society, which is funded solely by membership fees, has proved itself not only as one of Gwent’s leading photography clubs but also as a key social hub too.

Whether it is a break for cake half-way through each club meeting or the fact that new members are allowed three free meetings before being required to pay, this is a society run by its members for its members.

Chairman Stephen James, 49, who lives in Newport, said that having only joined the club himself a year ago, he has been made to feel very welcome – with budding photographers of all ages and abilities welcome.

He said: “It’s a wide spectrum in terms of age groups and we cater for all members – whether you have no camera, you’re a beginner, or you’re advanced. Some people might just enjoy looking at photos.

“The content is diverse, with in-house competitions where a particular photograph is judged and we do this for beginners and improvers too.

“We welcome those at a level where they are unsure regarding talking about perceptions and we cater for that beginner."

Given how it features a handful of professional photographers, the Gwent Photographic Society gives advice and critique to those photographers who hope to get letters after their name.

This highly sought-after accreditation, from organisations such as the Wales Photographic Federation (WPF) and the Royal Photography Society (RPS), is obtained after a selection of photographs are judged by an esteemed panel.

Mr James said: “We help and improve beginners and nurture them to get letters after their name. It’s quite intimidating, as they can be up against professional photographers and they have to hope they are good enough.

“That’s what stops people a lot of the time – they think it will be the prima donnas of photography and get a bit frightened.

“I started a year ago and was very apprehensive on what was expected – would people laugh at me? It was the complete opposite and everyone’s been so helpful.

"It’s not all about photography. It’s a hobby and profession for some, but there’s also friendship and that’s why we have such a diverse age group.

“We all help each other and several of us meet outside the club. They’re all so nice and friendly.”

Mr James, who previously worked as a store manager, now runs his own photography business; Remember to Smile photography.

Having bought his first every camera at the age of seven, Mr James said that the club has helped to bring on his skills, particularly with the variety of competitions and guest speakers on offer.

He said: “We have external competitions with other clubs, where each club enters their best photograph in a battle and a judge from outside then selects the best one.

“You’re seeing people who were once using a small camera winning a trophy for a photograph they’ve taken. It gives me a lot of pleasure.

“We also have weekly presentations that are quite diverse and the speaker will show the photos and how he or she captured them and we also have presentations on Photoshop.

“Then there are our model evenings where we set up a studio and give members the chance to practise photographing a model.

“There’s a lot on offer.”

Another member to speak highly of the club is Bob Davies, 66, from Newport, who joined the club four years ago. Mr Davies treated himself to a SLR camera after retirement and spotted a notice for the society in the Rivermead Community Centre, Rogerstone, shortly after.

Mr Davies said that the competitions the society hosts have further enriched his passion for photography.

He said: “I’ve always had a camera and taken a lot of photos, but they were just snaps really.

“Since joining, I’ve met lovely people doing a variety of things. It was very interesting and I was soon hooked on it.

“It’s quite varied with the different competitions, models, and different aspects. We all take it in turn on field exercises and it’s great for anyone looking to pick up tips and hints.

“As soon as you’re a member, you can enter a competition and it gives you a lot of encouragement to do even better."

He added: “The competitions bring out the interest and it’s quite exciting as no one knows who took what photo. We even had an exhibition in Risca library last year.

“A good photo is not just a beautiful landscape and judging really is subjective. It could be simple and still have a wow factor

“Any image that is sharp, well balanced, and aesthetically pleasing will do well. You just have to keep going until you get that one.”

Central to the club’s appeal is not only the chance to meet new people, but also to learn from them. As a result, the Gwent Photographic Society has many long-serving members – including Alan Weybourne, 65, who has been a member for 14 years.

Originally from Abertillery, Mr Weybourne joined the club when he returned to Wales after a spell living in London.

Mr Weybourne bought his first camera at the age of 18, but said that, until he joined the club, the hobby had been put on the backburner because of work and family commitments.

He said: “There’s a very friendly atmosphere there and I’ve met so many good friends. I love the social side of it.

“It’s a good cross-section and they’re all very friendly. When you’re with them, you’re bound to come on and learn a lot. You soon find out how much you actually know.

“I like doing studio, portraits and landscapes – all kinds of photography really. I just enjoy doing it with like-minded people.

“I’ve won a few competitions but I’ve not gone for my letters. I’m just happy to be Joe Bloggs and when I find out the secret to a good photo I’ll let you know.

“We’re all still learning and there’s so much to take on. You have to know the camera and the rules of composition. You need an eye for a photograph and hopefully, one day, I’ll get it.”