Behind The Lens... with the Peoria Camera Club

by Annie Locke

After 60 years of evolution—and revolution—this club is still thriving.

“There are hobbyists,” explains Julie Dodge, member and former president of the Peoria Camera Club (PCC), “and one step above hobbyists are enthusiasts.” Through the years, the club has cultivated many of central Illinois’ photography enthusiasts, and this September, its 140 or so members will kick off a yearlong celebration of the organization’s 60th anniversary.

With plans to incorporate “anniversary moments” into its upcoming meetings, members will be able to share their stories—their first camera, their favorite subject, their source of inspiration—and the club’s rich history and original photos from its earliest days.

A Common Interest
Originally known as the Peoria Color Camera Club, the PCC was founded in 1954 to provide a platform for those with a common interest in photography to exchange knowledge and build their technique and skills. Miriam Vinton, one of its charter members, is still active with the club and remembers when it came to life.

Vinton credits Caterpillar for helping the club get off the ground. Dwight Miller, its first president, had contacts there from his business selling photography equipment, and he contacted the company for assistance in promoting the fledgling group. With Caterpillar’s support, membership quickly grew from a handful of enthusiasts to more than a hundred members.

In her 60 years of membership, Vinton has watched the club evolve with the times. As she recalls, it primarily used slides in the beginning, while a print division was formed in 1975 and digital technology was incorporated in the early 2000s. Though the technology has shifted dramatically, she believes the club shares the same goals today as it did at its formation. “Everybody has a common interest,” Vinton explains. “We’re all there to improve our work.”

Competitions and Critiques
Through its many competitions, workshops and seminars, the Peoria Camera Club can help transform amateurs into true artists. Tom Romanowski, another former president, has observed how its support helps to improve photographers’ work. “When a person initially joins… you can see the quality of their photographs,” says Romanowski, “and then just a few years later, it has really progressed—and they’re doing great photography.”

Each year, the club hosts numerous field trips to visually striking sites around the region, as well as an annual seminar featuring a world-class photographer and speaker. But the greatest opportunities for learning occur at its ongoing meetings, which generally take place three times a month.

On programming nights, professional photographers offer lectures on basic skills, such as still life portraits or flash photography. A second monthly meeting affords members the opportunity to enter their work in competitions, where they are judged against peers in the same skill level and category, such as nature photography or photojournalism. Due to the feedback received, many members consider this to be the most beneficial. “I never had anybody to share my photos with,” Dodge says. “After sitting through some of the critique sessions in the competitions… the quality starts growing.”

The club also hosts themed competitions, from its world-renowned Insect Salon, a competition of insect-based photographs now in its 57th year, to a smartphone competition. “[Smartphone] cameras are getting pretty good,” Romanowski notes. “We’ve had some people submit smartphone images into the [regular] print competition and have done pretty well.” At the end of the club year, PCC hosts an End of Year competition, which determines “the best of the best” images from that year.

Moving to Digital
The club’ third monthly meeting tackles digital technology and software, which can be a challenge for some members. As the digital age revolutionized the industry, those who were more familiar with the classic techniques of film have struggled to adjust. “Digital makes it easier on the one hand,” Romanowski says, “but it is complex on the other hand. That’s probably one of the biggest hurdles people face.”

Though the digital world can be intimidating, it affords photographers far greater control over their craft, and today, it’s simply imperative. Dodge notes that those who strive to learn the intricacies of digital software are generally more successful. “Those members who do learn the programs and take the time to enhance their photos… are the photographers who stand out and win more competitions.”

The PCC began the shift toward digital photography in 2001. It held its first electronic competition in 2003, and in 2010, the club officially moved all of its competitions to the digital format; those who still prefer film must digitize their images for competitions.

Signature Learning
Beyond learning the ins and outs of digital software, Dodge and Romanowski have a few tips for aspiring shooters. Each emphasizes the importance of developing a signature style. “Once you establish what your look is and what your subject matter is, stick with it,” Dodge suggests. “If it’s nature that you enjoy, and nature helps you take photographs that are inspiring to others… then stick with what feeds your heart.”

In addition, Romanowski suggests studying all forms of art, across a variety of mediums, to gain a better understanding of composition and subject matter. He believes a good photograph should ignite emotions or stories—a quality that can be found in all types of art.

In the end, the best advice for beginners is to get out there and learn. As with any craft, education is key—and attending a meeting of the Peoria Camera Club is a pretty good place to start. a&s

For more information, visit