The Camera Club of Johannesburg (CCJ) has a rich and storied history dating back to the early 20th century. It was established in 1935 and is the one of the oldest photographic clubs in South Africa, and the oldest surviving photographic club in Johannesburg.
Right from its inception, the path of the CCJ was made clear in the aim articulated in its founding statement: “to foster pictorial photography in a club where originality was not stifled by conventional judging”. The founding members of the CCJ wished to pursue a more modern approach to photography and sought to distance themselves from the conventionalism of Pictorialism, which was still very evident in many clubs in the USA, Britain, and South Africa at that time.
Michael Meyersfeld, a former member of the CCJ, has researched the CCJ for his Masters of Art dissertation titled “Situating the Camera Club of Johannesburg in the South African Histories of Photography 1960-1989”. This research focused on the work produced by the black and white print section during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and much of the information in this section is taken from this dissertation. The complete dissertation is available for download at the link below.
The CCJ during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was an exciting place to be. Images were, for the most part, new or fresh. It was different from most other clubs, and a direct result of the leadership’s enthusiasm, energy, and progressiveness. Images simply showing an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of forms were not deemed successful. The prevailing requirement was to exploit the camera’s intrinsically creative qualities, eschewing the documentation of banal or familiar ideas.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, landscape photography at CCJ changed direction. This was in direct opposition to the traditional landscapes still being produced at many clubs. Landscape photographs began to incorporate non-rural objects, in line with the nascent New Topographic Movement that began in America in the early 1970s. This group was inspired by man-altered landscapes, selecting subject matter that was often considered mundane. Parking lots, suburban housing developments, and warehouses were all depicted in stark austerity. This was the beginning of urban photography at the CCJ, occurring at the same time it did in the USA.
Over the years, the CCJ has played an important role in the development of photography as an art form in South Africa. The club has hosted many exhibitions, workshops, and competitions, and its members have been instrumental in shaping the direction of photography in the country. Today, the CCJ continues to be an active and influential force in the South African photographic community. The founding ethos of “…a club where originality was not stifled by conventional judging” remains.
The club hosts regular meetings, and its members try to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible in photography. With a rich history and a commitment to excellence, the Camera Club of Johannesburg remains an important institution for photographers in South Africa and beyond.