Running the Royal Photographic Society

Michael Pritchard was made the Director General of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) last September. Before that he had worked at Christie's as a photography expert and had completed a PhD about the early years of the British photographic industry. He will be known to many photography enthusiasts for the excellent British Photographic History website that he runs.

He comes across as a careful and sensible person, unlikely to make any wild or spontaneous remarks. His own website shows that he is himself a keen amateur photographer, aspiring to make pictures similar to those made by many other RPS members, which is to say technically accomplished but traditional is subject matter. Nevertheless, he sees his role as that of a reformer at the Society, aiming to attract a new, younger membership and being open to new approaches and technologies.

The strength of the RPS is that it is a genuinely grass roots organisation in which the members, to a large extent, run their own groups and decide their own priorities. One of their main priorities is their system of awards that recognise and codify a standard of photography. As with all standards however, it is liable to be left behind by changes in the way people use the medium. In response to this, the Society now grants an ‘exemption’ to graduates, accepting a photography degree as of equivalent merit (even if a different aesthetic standard is at work) to their Distinctions. They have also welcomed (or attracted) a broader range of contemporary practitioners (Simon Roberts and Paul Seawright to name two). Michael Pritchard, in his diplomatic way, wants to create an organisation that accepts both what he calls ‘creative’ photography and the work of the amateur concerned with the craft of photography.

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