Norwich & District Photographic Society is ambitious,
vibrant and friendly.

Who we are

With roots that can be traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century, Norwich & District Photographic Society (NDPS) is one of the oldest photographic societies in the country.  The Society meets every Tuesday night throughout the season at the Methodist Church Hall, Chapel Field Road, Norwich NR2 1SD and during the off-season in the Summer there is also a shorter programme of events.

The annual season has something for everyone being jam-packed with fantastic presentations from accomplished photographers, practical workshops and tutorials, field trips, special interest groups, the usual photographic competitions and so much more...!.

Interested in improving your photography or just starting out on your journey…?
Why not come along and see what we have to offer.

The Methodist Church Hall on Chapel Field Road, Norwich, NR2 1SD

The Methodist Church Hall on Chapel Field Road, Norwich, NR2 1SD

Our objectives

NDPS members freely share their ideas, images, knowledge, and experience both at our weekly meetings and during the other activities that comprise our annual programme. No matter what their level of photographic ability or experience everyone is welcome to join us. The Society has members of all ages who work in all kinds of industries and professions and whose photographic skills range from complete beginners who are starting out on their photographic journey through to seasoned experienced photographers. NDPS strives to ensure all members of the Society reach their potential in a friendly environment.

The overall objectives of the Society are:

*         to provide a centre of artistic and technical excellence for photographers in Norwich and the surrounding area

*         to encourage members to develop their photographic and artistic skills and abilities; and,

*         to provide a forum for the exchange of information, knowledge, ideas and expertise about photography and photographic art.

In 1910 NDPS was a founding member of,; and remains affiliated to, the East Anglian Federation (EAF) of Photographic Societies.  The EAF is also a constituent founder Member of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB), which is the parent organisation for camera clubs and photographic societies throughout the UK.

Brief History

The early years

William Fox Talbot

William Fox Talbot

The British inventor William Fox Talbot produced his first successful photographic images in 1834, without a camera, by placing objects onto paper brushed with light-sensitive silver chloride, which he then exposed to sunlight. By 1840, Talbot had succeeded in producing photogenic drawings in a camera, with short exposures yielding an invisible or ‘latent’ image that could be developed to produce a usable negative. This made his process a practical tool for subjects such as portraiture and was patented as the ‘calotype’ process in 1841.

Having patented his process Fox Talbot turned to the commercial side of photography by licensing its use to studio operators.  John Beard, a London coal merchant, acquired a licence and opened a flourishing studio in London in 1841.  So successful was this business that in a short time he opened a number of provincial studios in Southampton, Manchester and Liverpool.

On 2nd December 1843 John Beard was about to open an establishment in the upper part of the Norwich Bazaar and became the first person in Norwich to sell “patent photographic portraits”. He stated that likenesses were “surprisingly correct,” and that severe chemical tests proved that they would “last to infinity.” The prices ranged from one to two guineas and photography had arrived in Norwich...!


Norwich Photographic Society

Thomas Damant Eaton was born in Norwich in 1800 and educated at Norwich School, one of the finest in Norfolk.

His father, Thomas Eaton, was a silk mercer, Tory and Freemason. Thomas Eaton [Snr.] had important roles in city life, as a member of the City Common Council, a churchwarden at St. Peter Mancroft and the owner of a shop at 3, Gentleman’s Walk on the Market Place.

Thoms Damant Eaton

Thoms Damant Eaton

Thomas Damant Eaton married Lydia Ray, of Suffolk, and they lived in Chapel Field, Norwich, in a house (that no longer exists) located at the corner of what is now Chantry Road. In 1832 he became a churchwarden at St. Peter Mancroft and took over his father’s business in Gentleman’s Walk. However, in 1846 he retired from it to pursue his cultural interests in the city, where he was active in the upper levels of society. He was especially interested in art, archaeology, literature, music and photography and was actively involved on the committees of the Public Library and the Museum. He was a flautist, President of the Norwich Choral Society, a music critic for the Norfolk Chronicle, a member (elected 1846) of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society and the first President (elected 1854) of the Norwich Photographic Society.

He was instructed in art and photography by his friend William Howes Hunt who was a former linen draper and lived in Great Yarmouth. Eaton’s photographic legacy is deposited with Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service and Norfolk Record Office. Photographs dated 1845 by him and some of his friends are to be found in two albums, titled Camera Sketches and Calotypes. His enthusiasm for photography is obvious from the records of the many photographic processes he laboriously copied into a notebook. Also, details about how he made selected negatives between 1848-1855, with exposure times that varied from 2 ½ to 15 minutes.

It was Eaton’s initiative that brought about the establishment of the Norwich Photographic Society following a meeting of interested parties at the home of the Freeman family in London Street, Norwich on 23rd June 1854. The objectives of the Society were the reading of original papers, the discussion of different photographic processes, the collection of pictures and the formation of a photographic library.

The new Society was only the sixth of its kind to be formed in this country.  Besides Eaton, who was listed as a silk mercer in the 1851 census, the other members mentioned in reports were Dr James Howes, G R Pitt, J R Sawyer, Dr W H Ranking, Charles Morse, W Bransby Francis, Henry Harrod, J Stewart, F T Keith, T Lound and Henry Pulley. Most of the others were professional men – solicitors, doctors, dentists, clergymen etc. One exception was J R Sawyer, who was expanding his business, listed in Melville’s 1856 Norwich Directory as ‘Sawyer and Company: Surgical and Philosophical Instrument Makers and Cutlers, Upper London Street’ and who had opened a photographic studio in the city in 1853.

It was decided that members should be charged a fee of five shillings. The membership quickly rose to fifty and the Society soon obtained the use of the Council Chamber in the Guildhall for their monthly meetings. The original minutes of the meetings have not survived, and we can refer only to those occasionally published in the Journal of the Photographic Society and the Journal of the Liverpool Photographic Society. 

The Society flourished until, in 1861, Eaton wrote to the editor of the Journal of the Photographic Society “Sir, I have to acquaint you that the Norwich Photographic Society, over which I had some time the honour of presiding, has unfortunately become extinct…”  It was not alone.  The societies in Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham , Brighton and probably others, all of which were of the same vintage, suffered the same fate.  Only the London (later the Royal), Manchester and Edinburgh Photographic Societies have survived.

The Years Between

Ironically, the Norwich Photographic Society folded just as a breakthrough in photography was about to take place.  For years, photographers had struggled with all the inconvenience of wet plates, that meant carrying bottles of liquid solutions, dishes to mix chemicals in, heavy glass plates and a of dark canopy in which to work, as well as a camera. No wonder interest in the pursuit was beginning to wane..!

Chemists were trying to find a ‘dry’ alternative and the breakthrough came in 1864 when a couple of the members of the Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association, W B Bolton and B J Sayce, produced a collodion emulsion containing silver rather than iodine. This allowed the emulsion to be coated onto glass plates in advance and allowed to dry and so ready prepared plates became available at the end of the 1860s. Although celluloid had been invented in 1861, it was not until Eastman Kodak was granted a patent for a celluloid based film 1889, did the age of film as we know it arrive.

Mass production of cameras and photographic materials led to a rapid increase in their use.  Although most of the new generation of users were content to follow the instructions and leave the processing to the increasing number of firms offering developing and printing,  There was also a mushrooming of clubs and societies catering for the more demanding amateur – but this time Norwich was left behind.

Meanwhile, J R Sawyer, the last survivor of the now defunct Norwich Photographic Society was successfully building his photographic business in London Street, Norwich.  By 1868 Sawyer had taken a partner Mr Bird and moved from 42 to 32 London Street and expanded his business as a photographic artist to also be a dealer in photographic goods. Photographic News reported in that year that Sawyer took 6,000 negatives and sold 50,000 prints.

Around the same time, J R Sawyer became one of the original directors of the Autotype Printing and Publishing Company and the firm was established in Ealing, where he had moved to.  As Sawyer became more and more involved with his business in London he was by necessity losing interest in his business in Norwich.  By 1888 the business at 32 London Street had been acquired by Albert Edward Coe.  Although it had moved a few buildings down the street, that photographic shop that had been a Mecca for members of the earlier Society was shortly to take on the same role for the members of its successor.

Norwich and District Photographic Society

By 1900 photography was becoming a leisure activity for many.  It was not, and has never been, an inexpensive pursuit.  However, with the introduction of reasonably priced equipment and simplified processes, the taking of photographs had become a practical proposition for ordinary people.

At the same time there were photographers who took their interest in photography more seriously.  People like these tended to gather together to share their experiences and problems and also to evaluate each other’s work.  In this way Photographic Societies and Camera Clubs found a new lease of life. 

Photographers in Norwich did not have much choice about where they could obtain equipment and materials . 

Albert Edward Coe

Albert Edward Coe

By 1903 Albert Edward Coe, who through his early association with J R Sawyer, provided a link with the original Norwich Photographic Society, had been in business for more than ten years and by then his son, Albert, had joined him. They had amassed a wealth of experience, which they were willing to share with their customers, and it is not difficult to assume that there would have been many discussions, on their premises, about matters of common interest in the photographic world.  In addition, with exploratory meetings said to been held in a room over the Castle Gateway, this rapport would no doubt have provided fertile ground in which to sow the concept of a new meeting place for people who shared a common interest in photography.

In a report The Eastern Daily Press refers to a meeting held on the 12th June 1903 at which interested parties, presided over by Mr E J Brown, agreed to form a new club and that the name should be the Norwich and District Photographic Society.  Albert Edward Coe was elected as President of the new Society, a position he continued to hold until just before the outbreak of the first world war in 1914.

The meetings of the new Society were held monthly in the Strangers Hall in Norwich and have continued ever since right up until the present day, although activities were suspended during both world wars.

The first annual exhibition was held in Norwich for three days from 17th March 1904, in rooms belonging to the Church of England Young Men's Society.  Today the annual exhibition has been held for many years in the historic surroundings of Norwich Cathedral and in 2016 the Society held its 100th exhibition showcasing the photographic work of its members.

The home of the Society has moved several times with meetings being held the Castle Museum , the Assembly House, and Norwich Central Library.

On the 1st August 1994 the Central Library was razed to the ground by a disastrous fire and the Society had to find a new home quickly with the new season just one month away.  The search was complicated as other organisations displaced by the Library fire were in the same situation.  However, Dame Fortune was smiling because, quite quickly, suitable accommodation was found at the Chapel Field Road Methodist Church, where the Society still meets.

A major consequence of the library fire was that the collection of record photographs, to which the Society had contributed since 1912, was virtually destroyed.

Norwich Central Library ablaze on 1st August 1994

Norwich Central Library ablaze on 1st August 1994

Into the 21st century: the digital age

The transformation of photography from a medium relying on chemically developed light-sensitive emulsions to one using digital technologies for image capture and storage began in the late 1980s, with the introduction of the first consumer digital cameras and in 1990 the first version of Adobe Photoshop.

Conceived as an extension of the conventional darkroom, Photoshop adopted many of the traditional tools of black-and-white film photography but let photographers go even further. By giving photographers the ability to easily change the structure of an image, and even its contents, it called into question long-held assumptions about photographic veracity or documentary “truth value.” To some minds, it changed the very nature of the medium.

Digital photography’s full impact was not felt until the first decade of the new century. Even as late as 2001, news events, such as the 11th September terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., were photographed primarily with film cameras.

Importantly, the Society readily embraced digital technology and now virtually all images are captured by the Society’s members using digital cameras.  Today, photography is more popular than ever.  Cameras are easier to use and are producing better results more reliably every year.  Arguably there will always be photographers who wish to improve their pictures, and there will always be those who find the stimulation and incentive to do so by joining a Society such as NDPS.

Norwich and District Photographic Society is determined to be flexible enough to  accept the changes inherent in technological progress, and in so doing is confident it has nothing to fear for the foreseeable future.


Much of the source material for this brief history comes from - When found, make a note – the history of Norwich and District Photographic Society 1903-2003, David D Button LRPS, Norwich and District Photographic Society, 2003