Racine Camera Club History
THE HISTORY OF THE RACINE CAMERA CLUB
There was a Racine Camera Club as far back as at least 1908, as documented in a photo taken by Wilfred Marshall, a long-time member of the club. Unfortunately, there are no records from this first club. At some unknown date, it was disbanded with little information available on its history. Thankfully, we have early photos and minutes to record the paths taken by the new, still active club.
The current Racine Camera Club was founded in April of 1938. At the suggestion of Leslie C. Nelson, this group met in his family-owned grocery store at 710 Grove Avenue for the first meetings. Members were mostly friends and neighbors also interested in photography. Officers were: Paul Lang, President; William Sieger Jr., Vice-President; and Leslie C. Nelson, Secretary/Treasurer. Some of the original members were: Gene Weins, Marie Nelson, Marian and Wendy Hansche, Walter Pierce, Helge Peterson, Elvin Jelinek, Ryde Ribar, Estelle Keech, and Norman Lutz, in addition to the officers. The primary purpose of the club was to promote all aspects of photography through discussion, exhibitions, lectures, programs and competitions. This is still our club purpose today.
In 1941 the club moved to the Wustum Museum of Fine Arts for meetings. They were originally held in the second-floor meeting room. Later the meetings moved down to a first-floor classroom. During the ensuing years, the club held competitions, lectures, and “model nights” where club members actually set up portrait lights and photographed friends and models willing to sit for the evening. Rules written in 1973 are in the club history file.
One memorable club event was participation in the Racine Fourth of July Parade. A float was decorated and members dressed in old-fashioned outfits. An old, large format box camera was set up and a simulation of a photographer making a family portrait in days gone by was the theme. Club members also walked alongside the float and passed out flyers about the club.
In 1940 the club initiated a color slide show competition, open to the public. During the 1962 show, the entry fee included a chance for door prizes. The competition was juried, and the accepted slides were shown to the public at various locations in Racine. There was a nominal fee for non-entrants to view the show. This was one way for the club to make money, which could be used for equipment or guest speakers. There are programs in the historical file for this show from 1962 through 1988. We believe the last show was held in 1988.
Beginning in 1951, the club sponsored a Black and White Salon, which was an exhibit of prints from RCC members as well as members of other camera clubs. There was no charge for this exhibit (held at the·Wustum Museum), which also included a speaker to open the show. We do not know what year this Salon was discontinued.
In 1972 the competitions were separated into two classes; A for advanced, B for a beginner. This was done to accommodate the various skill levels of the members.
In 1973, after much consideration, the club decided to allow commercial prints in competitions. This allowed those members without darkrooms to compete and get critiques on their prints in addition to their slides.
Over the course of time, books had been donated to the Racine Public Library in honor of club members and most recently, in keeping with the advances of science, a videotape was donated. According to our records, the books we have donated were: The Camera, Light, and Film, Circus Life, Big Top. and Science In Photography. The video was “Mountain Light,” by Galen Rowell. The complete information with the library number and the honored member’s name is in the history file.
As far back as 1968, the club held a “White Elephant” sale to benefit the club. In 1973 there was a “flea market.” The most recent tradition is the annual Christmas Party/Auction. Members bring in photography-related items and an auctioneer entertains us with his ability to generate profits from old magazines, magnifying glasses, empty lens cases, slide mounts from 1940, unique and even old, useable camera lenses. This is always a fun evening. We must give credit here to our favorite auctioneer and long-time photo friend, Ron Doerring (from Rode’s Camera Shop in Kenosha), who has made the auction the popular and successful event it is.
In 1973 the members put together a beautiful book of black and white prints collected from members and sold the books for $1.00. It was published and produced by Ted Wilson, a club member. The first portrait in the book is of Wilfred Marshall, one of the club’s more famous members. One book is on file in the Racine County Historical Museum Archives in the Racine Camera Club file (#840 C).
In 1975 the club initiated the large undertaking of a Permanent Slide and Print Collection. An initial group of prints and slides were chosen according to the agreement, and thereafter each year one slide and one print were chosen to be added to the collection. Due to the size of the collection and limited storage space, June of 1993 was the last time work was chosen for the Permanent Collection. There is a listing of the items in the collection in our history files.
The club has participated in the Tri-County Juried Photographic Print Show since the early 1940s. RCC co sponsors this undertaking with the Wustum Museum of Fine Arts. Entries are juried and accepted entries are hung in the Museum, with the three winning prints collecting $50.00 each. The funds for these awards come from the Rothschild Memorial Fund.
The Jack Rothschild Memorial Fund was generated in 1986 upon the death of long-time member Jack Rothschild. Jack was an avid photographer and ran the photo department at the Red Cross Drug Store on 6th St. and College Ave. here in Racine. According to available records, he was president of the club in 1959 and 1966. In 1970 the club presented him with an Outstanding Service award. He bequeathed $3,000 to the club, and in respect for him the club members set up the memorial in his name to honor him. It was also decided to use this fund to provide the awards for the Tri-County Print Show. The money is invested to perpetuate the memorial, and there is an article in the Constitution and Bylaws (Article IX) to define how the money is handled.
Over the years the club has exhibited in local hospitals and nursing homes, the Racine County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and has helped the Racine Zoo with their “Zoo Safari Days” fundraiser.
By November 2002, the club left its “home” at the Wustum, due to increased cost to meet there, and settled into the Racine Arts Council building at 345 Main St. When the landlord ended the lease with the RAC, we bounced around a bit, meeting at the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Sturtevant and the Spectrum Art Gallery at the DeKoven Center. Then in April 2005 we moved back to the new home of the RAC, at 505 6th St., and later moved with them across the street in 2008 to 316 Sixth St.
Our meeting schedule was reduced to once a month on the second Thursday of each month beginning in September 2007, with an occasional extra event on the fourth Thursday.
In 2008, club President John Koors chose a website provider he thought would best showcase our club and members’ fine art and proceeded to build the website. Four years later, club president Tom Leih “remodeled” the site and added pages for competition galleries, educational websites, and anything else he could think of to benefit members and other interested photographers.
The PSA Showcase of Images, a competition for member camera clubs in Wisconsin, started in September 2004. Each club chooses seven images (1 per member) to be submitted and combined with images from other clubs for a round robin competition. Club members judge all the images except the ones from their club and the results are calculated at the end of the programming year.
The first digital small print competition was held in April 2004. As digital photography became more accepted, slide and print entries began to dwindle. By 2013, digital images had won out and the other two media were discontinued.
However, we were still using the old electronic scoring devices, and after experiencing increasing problems during judging, several board members investigated other options for conducting competitions. Other clubs around the country had turned to a new competition method utilizing the internet. Our competition chairman, Ron Morishita, spent many hours researching the alternatives and Tom Leih spent many more hours programming our website so that the new competition format was ready for the 2013 spring competition.
Members submitted their entries via email three weeks prior to the competition meeting; the competition chairman organized them into appropriate categories; and the judges were able to view and score them over two weeks’ time in the comfort of their homes. Participants were able to review the judges’ scores and comments through a link sent via email prior to the competition meeting. Then the meeting time was utilized to provide critique and feedback on the images, which enabled members to learn more about improving their work. The changeover was declared to be a win-win for everyone.
To decrease the workload on the competition chairman and reduce chances of images getting overlooked, another improvement was established. Members began uploading their images through a web portal programmed by Tom Leih that automatically organized the images into their proper categories. These improvements have greatly enhanced our competitions.
Another major change was the point system for determining Photographer of the Year. Since we now have a monthly competition, two semi-annual competitions, a summer-long competition, and the PSA Showcase of Images, the club approved a new point system for participation and winning images. The competition chairman keeps a tally of points throughout the year and names the Photographer of the Year at the annual banquet.
In January 2015, while planning a free “Get To Know Your Camera” workshop, we discovered a venue that was more conducive to our club’s needs. We decided to relocate the meetings to the SC Johnson iMET Center on the Gateway campus at 2320 Renaissance Blvd., Sturtevant. The auditorium provided a podium with a microphone, projector, projection screen, and plenty of comfortable seating with desktops.
The Club originally had a meeting space in the auditorium where they have excellent presentation facilities., but after a couple of years, the room became ‘permanently reserved’ during our normal meeting time. We sought refuge in the executive meeting room that becomes increasingly cozy as our membership grew,
Starting around 2017, the meetings were moved again to the Racine Gateway Technical College where we had access to the public meeting rooms. This venue was a welcome home from the iMet site. The additional room allowed for the club to grow in size. We attracted more members from surrounding counties. The additional room allowed us to try something different about holding individual sessions that addressed different topics. The facility and meetings were going well until the year 2020 when the reality of COVID came to Wisconsin. The COVID protocols didn’t stop the Racine Camera Club. The club adopted the new technology of meeting virtually and continues to flourish.
After COVID we changed our meeting format to include virtual meetings. This allowed the club to continue offering our meetings to the public from all over SouthEast Wisconsin. In 2023, the website that powers our club presence was transitioned to Amazon Web Services with a WordPress front end and the competition system developed by Tom Leih.