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The early years of the IPPA by David Davison

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Notes on The Early Years of The Irish Professional Photographers Association by David H Davison – AIPPVA.
Written on the 12th October 2020

Photograph of the first IPPA council, courtesy of Christopher Ashe
Back row: Michael Higgins, Unknown, Cecil Vanston, Rex Roberts. Front row: Unknown, Brendan O’Reilly, Joe Ross, Dorothy Smith, Norman Ashe.

The surviving documents relating to the early years of the IPPA [founded in 1949] set out admirable aims for the association and explain the need for such a body in enthusiastic terms. However, there were other unmentioned purposes on the minds of the founders which would not be seemly enough to print.

I should point out that at the time when these aims were being thought up I was still in school and much, but not all, is what I learned from founder members and in particular, my first employer Walter Guiver, Michael Higgins and SG(Bill) Reeves.

There were two aspects in particular:

1. Unprofessional conduct and what were known as “kitchen sink” or “wet print merchants”.

The latter category still persists but in an entirely different guise.

The behaviour of many professional wedding photographers was, to modern minds, quite incredible. It was not uncommon for the official photographer to arrive at the Church to find a competitor already there and photographing the best-man and groom and any others he could grab. This regularly resulted in fist fights on the church steps.

Sometimes an unofficial photographer having butted in on the groups outside the church would be found to have either deflated the official photographer’s tyres or having slashed a couple of them so that he (such vile acts were not known to be the work of women) could get to the reception and photograph the groups and cake cutting. The level of enmity between certain photographers can only be imagined. Just imagine how the public regarded photographers at that time.

2. The other problem the association faced was that of the amateur who made money in their spare time or as was reported, civil servants who took paid leave to attend weddings.

Some of these, along with the rogue photographers mentioned above, made a point of getting back to their darkrooms, or kitchen sinks, very quickly and processing their negatives, usually badly because of the rush, printing them and rushing back to the reception, showing the wet prints and taking orders and the money on the spot, thus depriving the official photographer of substantial income.

Needless to remark the unfortunate guests, having paid up often received no photographs; another blow against the respectable professional.

The above outlines a summary of the desperate and criminal activities of some people who called themselves photographers and led to mistrust of photographers among the public. There were operators who increased their profitability by not bothering even to put film into their cameras.

In light of the above, the Association can be seen to have achieved a great deal. Regular meetings were held and from time to time eminent photographers were invited over to speak and teach advanced techniques.

I remember Don McCullin and the gold and silverware photographer Peter Parkinson in particular and the contributions of fellow member Henry Solomon of Belfast who taught us a lot about the economics of photography and how to make a profit. His perennial question for any visiting speaker was “How much do you charge”. I remember in the early sixties he made the point that if one doubles the fees and loses half the business one makes more money and has more time on hand to develop the business.

Many members took this on-board including Reggie Wiltshire and myself in the Green Studio. The only problem was that we didn’t lose half the business. In fact, we lost hardly any clients. I should perhaps make the point that the Green Studio was a commercial business with no involvement in the social aspects of photography.

Regular meetings apart the annual exhibitions were a tremendous success bringing in large crowds and showing the public just how good was the standard of work from true professionals. The exhibits featured all aspects of professional photography and entries were selected for the show by the President of what was then the BIPP and now the IIP from England in order to avoid partiality.

All these activities raised both the standard and profile of professional photography. Gradually, the council developed the ambition of having an educational course established for entrants to the profession: Reggie Wiltshire, Ricky Stevens, Padraig MacBrian and Andreas O’Fearchain were leaders in this. After several years effort they finally got the then City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee to agree to the establishment of a professional photography course at the College of Technology, Kevin Street, now part of TUD.

A new problem arose when having advertised for two part-time photography lectures, only one was selected by the college as being suitably qualified. Following this, Ricky Stevens approached me, pointing out that if I didn’t apply for the other position the entire project would be cancelled, this moral pressure had the desired effect and as a result, the first professional photography course was established.

The association took an active interest in the course and having consulted various individuals in the UK and elsewhere, a part-time day release course was decided upon. This major achievement of the association evolved into what is now a four-year full-time honours-degree course.

Over time the association managed to gain recognition from government departments and played an active role in getting the best rate of Added-value Tax, (a precursor of VAT) when it was introduced in the sixties. From early years the association actively fought for the interests of the profession in the areas of tax and copyright with considerable success.

It might be noted that members were supported in disputes with clients and occasionally counsel’s opinion was sought on matters of law affecting the practice of photography. Another point of note is that only proprietors could be members, there was non-voting assistant membership which even applied to fully qualified employees, this was altered by 1960.

This brief summary of events covers a period of profound change in both society and photographic technology and practice. When the IPPA was formed there were few B+W television sets in the country and there was a two-year wait for a landline phone. Virtually all professional photography was in B+W only. In my case, the smallest format used in the studio was 4×5 inch and all printing papers were fibre based.

If you suggested using a phone to take photograph you would have been consigned to the loony-bin.


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