Let’s clear up some confusion, shall we?
When I joined a photo club several years ago, I didn’t know how clubs are organized in New Zealand (where I live) or anywhere in the world.
I slowly got an understanding that we have local clubs, regions (which is a more geographic boundary than a legal entity), and a national society. In New Zealand, that is the Photographic Society of New Zealand (PSNZ). But there is also a distinction between photographers and professional photographers. Professional photographers have additional (also paid) access to another national body, which caters for the needs of professional photographers only (NZIPP).
Have a look at this highly sophisticated illustration, that might help:
Affiliates of PSNZ can be
- a photographer (all levels, including professionals)
- an affiliated photography club
Members of NZIPP can only be a professional photographer.
There is another photographic society in New Zealand, and that is the ‘Nature Photography Society of New Zealand’, but they cater for a smaller specialized subset of the club organized photographers. And they are not affiliated with FIAP, see below.
New Zealand is a small country, but it already gets complicated with the structure. So imagine countries like USA, France, UK, Germany or Australia; they have a much more involved mesh of clubs and representing bodies. But the overall structure is similar to what I outlined above for New Zealand.
Single photographer -> local camera club -> (regional organisations/federations) -> national organization/society -> international body: FIAP
On a world level, we probably only have to look at “International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP) Fédération Internationale de l’Art Photographique” as the overarching federation for all affiliated societies of the participating countries. There is only one member organisation allowed per country as a full member, other local or national bodies can be affiliated, but only with reduced rights. There are 92 countries represented in FIAP, with 1.5 million represented individual photographers.
- In New Zealand, we have PSNZ affiliated with FIAP.
- In Australia we have the APS (Australian Photographic Society)
- In the US, we have the Photographic Alliance of America (PAA) as a Member of FIAP.
- In UK, the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) is affiliated. Interestingly, Scotland is affiliated separately with the “Scottish Photographic Federation”, and Wales with “The Welsh Photographic Federation”. But Wales is also a member of PAGB, so that is all very confusing. Can someone from the UK give me a rundown on why not only PAGB is affiliated?
- In Germany, it is the “Deutscher Verband fuer Photografie (DVF)”.
- In France, the “Fédération Photographique de France”.
These organizations do basically the same, on different levels: they promote the art of photography and help their (paying) members in achieving their photographic goals. They provide various services to their members, and one of them is awarding honours distinctions to members who present their photography for assessment. It is basically a recognition system for photographers who want to display a certain proficiency. There are a lot of different systems in place for gaining these honour awards, and every photographic society has their own special way of doing it. E.g. in New Zealand there is a three-level system (Licentiate-LPSNZ, Associateship-APSNZ and Fellowship-FPSNZ). You can gain these honours distinction by presenting a portfolio of images to the honours board of PSNZ. The board then comes together once a year to assess the applications they received for the three levels, and awards the distinction (or not). You can read an article about this year’s results on page 11 of the online PSNZ publication “CameraTalk”. The whole ‘letters’ system of the photographic societies is a topic which deserves more space, so I will write a separate article about that soon.
Another service of the national and international bodies is to engage in competitions and exhibitions. There is an online book about all of the activities of FIAP here:
FIAP also organizes a world cup for photography clubs and a FIAP Biennials competition and exhibition.
The last thing to notice here about FIAP in this overview article is the online publication (digital magazine) they publish regularly. You can find it online:
When you look at the organization structure, it is not meant as a control structure. The national or international bodies do not control their members, they provide services. I think that is important to understand. They still have some power by providing guides or practices which are widely adopted by the affiliated camera clubs, but the relationship differs from a multi-national corporate structure of a business entity. Also, most members of the camera clubs and organizations are not paid and work as volunteers.
Where do I start?
Most people start their club-organized photography life by joining a local club, not caring about any affiliations and national or international clubs or organizations.
Then after a while the paths split. Some photographers have no interest in competing with their images, and that’s great! It’s not a competition to get into competitions.
Others enter competitions, first at a local club level, then with experience and more confidence, at a regional or national level. If that is successful, FIAP competitions are a natural progression. But it is not mandatory. Our small local club has a wild mixture of levels and participation levels in competitions. Only very few enter their images into national competitions, and I believe we only have maybe one or two looking at FIAP level competitions. I am at a level where I am thinking about participating more on a national level, and I read about requirements for FIAP competitions. I did the first level of honours distinction (so I gained my LPSNZ letters) last year, and I will continue to work towards my second submission for next year (that will then be the APSNZ level). I think it is fun to do and pushes your boundaries by giving you a challenge. For me competitions motivate me and are a vital factor in getting better at photography, but that is just me.
As always, have fun creating images! You don’t have to compete with your images. But I believe competitions and evaluations help in progressing your photography level.