The first efforts to enhance the profession of photography started all the way back in 1869. Some eager pioneers set the wheels in motion for this current photography association that brings together photographers from around the world. Then, in 1880, the goal was to combine the best minds of the profession, promote an active exchange of ideas and knowledge and eliminate narrow and prejudiced opinions regarding photography as an art and science. They had the right idea, and it caught on quickly. At the first convention, 237 photographers attended. This is a huge feat considering the lack of technology and communication available to spread the word! A valuable photography association was born.
PPA as we know it today was officially formed in 1880. Photography was becoming a real and recognized profession and, as we know, with greater success comes greater challenges. PPA developed programs to deal with the financial and managerial issues photographers were facing and helped them thrive, even during difficult economic times. It also established a tradition of continuing education by providing annual forums for noted photographers.
Today, PPA is a photography group over 28,000 members strong and growing every day. For over 140 years, we have represented photographers in a professional, caring manner. We face issues the founders never imagined, and we continue to adapt to a changing environment. But there is one thing that won’t ever change—we will work tirelessly to support photographers, protect your livelihood, enhance your knowledge and push you to be as successful as you can be.
If this historical snapshot isn't quite enough for you, dig in to the loads of details below:
140+ Years of Service
The history of PPA illuminates the history of professional photography. For example, though this photography association was first organized in 1869, its roots reach back a year earlier when concerned photographers, united against Ambrotype patent restrictions, first started discussing the need for what became NPA. Although succeeding in preventing the reissue of the patent, the group disbanded in 1876 because of lack of interest.
Why and how did it reorganize into its next evolution, Photographers Association of America (PAA)? In 1880, members of the Chicago Photographic Association and past NPA members knew they needed a revitalized association. The new goal was to combine the best minds of the profession, promote an exchange of ideas and knowledge, and eliminate narrow and prejudiced opinions regarding photography as an art and science. In their first April 1880 meeting, PAA elected John Ryder from Cleveland, Ohio, as its first president. A group of 237 photographers attended the first convention in Chicago on August 23-26.
The economic slump of the 1880s negatively affected many professions, including photography. In an attempt to keep photographers interested in the association during this period, money was appropriated for gold and silver medals and trophy cups to honor award-winning photographs displayed at conventions. The concept of "photographic salons" was developed at the 1906 convention. The salons consisted of 25 photographs, selected by a jury as representing the best shown that year, paving the way for the present annual International Print Exhibition and its prestigious traveling Loan Collection, which each year is seen by thousands of viewers worldwide.
From its beginnings, PAA was concerned with enhancing the art and science of photography. The original constitution called for diffusing knowledge among its members and stimulating photographic discovery and invention. Since the first meeting in 1880, manufacturers and noted photographers have used the annual convention to introduce products and share knowledge. At that 1880 convention, a special PAA committee gave demonstrations of the gelatin dry plate, a then-revolutionary imaging process. Their subsequent reports, based on member experiments, established the dry plate as standard professional material.
Also present at early PAA conventions were many American daguerreotype pioneers, including John H. Fitzgibbon, who began making daguerreotypes as far back as 1841. The daguerreotype was the first practical and profitable photographic process, which had been introduced in 1839-40. It was at the 1888 convention that George Eastman introduced his Kodak camera and film processing service, winning a first prize medallion and special certificate of honor. The following year, 1889, Eastman Kodak Company demonstrated the new transparent celluloid roll film. In 1908, color photography was under development, causing quite a stir at the convention in Detroit. At the Golden Anniversary in 1930, the first artificial lighting, consisting of mercury tubes and electricity, was demonstrated.
In its early years, PAA established a tradition of continuing education for members by providing annual forums for noted photographers, including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Dr. C.E. Kenneth Mees, and Edward Steichen.
As early as the beginning of the 20th century, photographers began to recognize the importance of sharing information, quite a contrast from the usual business methods of that day. At that time business was very competitive, and trade secrets were guarded out of fear of losing customers. As photography became a profitable business, PAA provided programs to deal with management and financial problems.
In 1909, the membership installed its first governing body, the Congress of Photography. The Congress was composed of delegates from around the country who transacted official association business. Previously, all association business had been conducted by those who happened to attend conventions, resulting in problems of organizational continuity. The Congress continued until 1929 when the National Council became the official governing body, representing 37 associations and clubs nationwide.
By 1913, the photography association had grown to 725 members, expanding to 2,272 members in 1916. When World War I began, many PAA members contributed to the United States effort by joining the photography section of the Signal Corps. After the war, all photographers of the section were made honorary PAA members through the Liberty War Section of the association.
The Twenties ushered in a significant event in the association's history. In 1921, The Daguerre Club of Indiana donated to PAA a building in Winona Lake, Indiana, for the purpose of establishing a photography school. Thus was born the professional school which was to become the Winona International School of Professional Photography. Winona operated classes for professional photographers each summer until 1984 when the school relocated to its Mount Prospect, Illinois campus, where it operated until 1994 when it was relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. Thousands of photographers from all parts of the world have attended Winona classes to update their skills or develop abilities in other fields of photographic application under the guidance of some of the nation's outstanding professional image makers. The school changed its name to the PPA International School of Photography in 1999.
Just as PAA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1930, the Depression hit. Despite efforts to boost membership and provide new programs, the Depression took its toll. During these years (1931-34), the association suffered along with the country. Budgets were cut, memberships were cancelled, and no conventions were held. By 1934, association leaders were spearheading a drive to build membership and combat rampant price-cutting under the Recovery Act, which was signed into law that year. They developed the Code of Fair Competition for the Photographic and Photofinishing Industry, which would require every person or firm selling photographic products or services to comply with certain requirements as to wages, hours, prices, and trade practices. The tool now existed to revitalize the association and improve the profession so that it could do its part in returning the country to prosperity. These hopes were soon dashed when the National Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional, affecting all such codes under its jurisdiction. The association suffered a further setback when World War II erupted.
In spite of this difficult period, PAA continued to offer new benefits to its members, including the Directory of Professional Photography, which made its first appearance in 1938, and the degree program, which awarded its first Master of Photography degree in 1939.
During the 30 years which followed the war, the association regained its strength. Post-war photographers opened new studios, inherited old ones, and looked for a place to share their interest and become better educated in their new profession. They joined the association, and it continued to grow and expand its programs, many of which still exist today. By 1953, there were 4,000 members, and by 1968 those ranks exceeded 12,000. In 1958, the PAA changed its name to Professional Photographers of America (PPA) to distinguish the association from emerging amateur photography organizations.
That same year, PPA joined the Mississippi-Alabama Associated Photographers (later renamed the Professional Photographers of Mississippi-Alabama) and the University of Mississippi to hold the first conference on professional photography with joint participation from a local association, national association, and major university.
Such growth prompted plans to build a permanent headquarters. Through the fund-raising efforts of the Photographic Arts and Science Foundation, PPA dedicated its new headquarters building in 1966 in Des Plaines, Illinois. Shortly thereafter, in 1968, PPA Publications & Events Inc. was established as a PPA subsidiary to manage all publications and educational events.
PPA moved its headquarters from Chicago to Atlanta in 1993, where it continues its operations today. In 2001, PPA began taking a more active role in protecting photographers' rights with the creation of the Copyright and Government Affairs Department. PPA is actively lobbying on behalf of photographers on Capitol Hill. Visit PPA.com/advocacy to learn more about their efforts and results.
Since the first pioneering photographers banded together to promote their chosen profession in 1869, members of PPA have witnessed great strides in the industry. Not only has photography proven itself to be an invaluable tool in recording history and preserving memories, its use is routine in almost every profession. It has provided mankind with innumerable services and opened doors to unknown worlds.
With membership figures above 28,000, Professional Photographers of America continues to be recognized as an international forum for photographic activity, education, information, and professional standards. Today, as in 1869, PPA continues to prove that collective knowledge and united efforts not only benefit individual members, but also serve to advance the profession as a whole.