Old history

A short history of the Society

The Cape Town Photographic Society (CTPS) is South Africa’s oldest photographic club, and has been contributing to the development of photography in South Africa since it was founded on 30 October, 1890. It is perhaps appropriate that founding members Cape Town City Engineer, T W Cairncross, and B A Lewis, Secretary of the Gas Company, discussed the establishment of a photographic club for Cape Town in a pub, because socialising is still a major feature of the activities enjoyed by members.

The first president, Sir David Gill , was the first person to use photography to make a systematic survey of the sky. While he was the Royal Astronomer at the Observatory in Cape Town, Dr Gill and one of the CTPS founders, E.H. Allis, pioneered star photography by strapping a camera to a telescope to take a photo of the “great comet” of 1882.

Among the other prominent members are Arthur Elliott, whose collection of 10 000 photos of Cape Dutch buildings was acquired by the Historical Monuments because these artistic historical images created such an excellent pictorial record of the Cape’s architectural heritage. Past CTPS president A. Van Reenen van Oudtshoorn was described by an American writer as “the world’s greatest exponent of land and seascape photography”. Botanist and lecturer Rudolf Marloth discovered many new plant species and was also a founder member of the Mountain Club of South Africa, which shared many outings with CTPS.

In 1955 prominent CTPS members helped establish the Photographic Society of Southern Africa (PSSA) – Rev. Kin Bensusan became president, and CTPS members Ted Dickinson, Roy Johannesson and Robert Bell later served as PSSA presidents. Trevor Stafford Smith, Fred Harris, H.R. Lawley, Antenie Carstens, Detlef Basel (CTPS president 2008-2015) and many other CTPS members also contributed to the growth of photography across South Africa through their work for the PSSA.

Members Eric Vertue, Raymonde Johannesson, Alice Mertens and Fred Harris achieved the highest honours in the photographic world when they gained Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (FRPS).

While the prominent members made headlines, CTPS has over the years had many thousands of active and creative members who enjoy the talks, workshops, outings, salons, competitions, audio-visual shows and cameraderie offered by this vibrant society of photographers.

CTPS has had some members who stayed active for more than fifty years, and many current members have been members for more than twenty years. But, we also attract young members, as mobile phones and digital cameras makes photography accessible to all. The only qualification needed for membership is a love for photography.