A Long Time Ago

Written by Donald G. Akers

The year 1985 seems a long time ago, and no doubt it is, but our camera club will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. I suppose by being one of only two original club members I will appoint myself the defacto club historian and write about how the club was established and sprinkle an anecdote or two about the early years.

I was honored to have known Jim Spor as a friend and as a mentor not only in photography but also in everyday life. Since most of the club members never had the pleasure of meeting Jim, I would like to write about this wonderful man who was the chief architect of the Manassas Warrenton Camera Club.

I met Jim in response to an advertisement he placed in a local Manassas newspaper, in the fall of 1984, asking for anyone interested in learning photography and willing to help form a camera club to call him. I called Jim in responded to the newspaper ad and talked to him for 45 or more minutes comparing photographic experience, exchanging ideas on how to go about forming the club, and how to solicit the help we would need. About 15 minutes after hanging up the telephone, the doorbell rang. There standing on the porch was a short chubby man with a receding hairline and a big smile on his face. He introduced himself as “Jim”. I invited him in and he continued talking from where he stopped off on the telephone, spending the next 2 hours discussing more ideas about forming the club. Our first assignments were to write several articles about photography and try to get them published in the local newspapers. We also wrote short notices for the radio stations to be announced on their community bulletin board series. Having never written an article for the newspaper or a radio spot announcement we were amazed when they were published and aired without question.

Shortly thereafter I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Benn, Ray Heller, Erwin Siegel, Melva Bradford, Ron Staley, John Brady, and a few others whose names I have forgotten that had responded to Jim’s plea for help. Jim was not bashful in handing out “assignments”, each followed by numerous meetings in our family rooms and kitchens to discuss the next item to be completed. Melva an expert at darkroom processing, Erwin with experience in forming another Northern Virginia camera club, and Jim were tasked to write the bylaws and rules of competition. John was our technical advisor. Ron became the unofficial secretary and tracker of the various action items. Joe, Ray, and I were given assignments as the need came across Jim’s list of many “to do” activities.

The first Thursday in September 1985 the club was officially formed. Our first meeting was at the Manassas Battlefield Visitor’s Center. I cannot find any records that indicate how many members attended that meeting, but I would guess it to be around 10-12 including several park service employees. Jim would be extremely proud to know our current membership has moved from ten to more than eighty. Initial membership dues were $20. Most of our meetings in 1985-1986 were held at the battlefield visitor’s center. The club did not pay for the meeting room so quite often the park service bumped our meeting space at the last minute. When that happened a team of three or four members would take off in a mad scramble to find an alternate meeting place and then drive back to the visitor center to announce the place we had found. Some of the places we held our meetings where the county supervisors and circuit court judges chambers, church basements, member homes, lawyer offices, doctor waiting rooms, and even a butcher shop. As far as I can remember we never met in the funeral director’s office.

Our competition categories and workshops were fundamentally limited from what we have today. The majority of the members were novices eager to learn more about photography. The workshops and field trips were very well attended. The club was loosely associated with the owner and some of the instructors from the Washington School of Photography who served as our mentors and advisors. Several members attended classes and workshops given by the school. Many of the early workshops dealt with portraiture and glamour photography. Some of the portraiture workshops included both clothed and nude professional models, makeup artist demonstrations, and advanced strobe lighting techniques.

Jim had a unique way of selecting a buddy to go with him on local field trips around the Manassas area. I discovered his technique one evening when I happened to look out the window to see a man sitting on my patio busy working on a piece of equipment. Thinking it was someone from one of the utility companies I stepped outside to greet him. It wasn’t the utility man as I expected, but Jim who had managed to take apart a new light meter he recently purchased and had the parts scattered around the patio table. He asked for a paper bag, put all the parts in the bag, and told me to get my camera because I was wasting the good light. He used this technique many times not only on me but other club members. No excuses of “my daughter has a recital” or “the dog ate my camera” would get me out of going with him to the battlefield or some other place he had selected to explore. As far as I can remember he never did get his light meter reassembled properly.

Closely following Jim’s love for his family was his love to roam around the northern Shenandoah/Piedmont area and the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of the club members during our early years was Allen Berkowitz who ran a medical clinic in Washington, Virginia. Allen’s love for photography and the Blue Ridge Mountains was on a par with Jim’s. I spent many a Sunday with Jim and Allen wading through unmarked steams, touring picturesque farm land expanding our nature photography skills. Every farmer in Rappahannock County at one time or another had visited Allen’s clinic so he had carte blanche permission to come on their property anytime he and his photography buddies wanted. Allen lived on a farm in the Sperryville area and often after a day in the mountains he would invite us to his house for sandwiches and refreshments. He had two of the meanest dogs in the state of Virginia that had to be tied up with heavy metal chains before anyone came into his house. I’m quite sure Jim never showed up unannounced at Allen’s house.

Jim was an excellent speaker, motivator, and a person who enjoyed being around others. Thanks to his efforts the club membership grew to 36 in our second year. During the latter part of 1986 we moved our meetings to the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) conference room. Jim served as club president for the first three years. He devoted countless hours toward skillfully and lovingly nurturing the club through its early years. He solicited fellow photographers to help him in achieving his goal of making the club one of the best camera clubs in the metropolitan Washington area. Jim considered himself a novice photographer during his early years with the club, however he was a quick study and became a major contender on competition nights. He was a gentle man, never seeking personal recognition for his work with the club. His rewards were handing out a ribbon to a first time winner on competition night, introducing a new member to the club, and seeing the club grow. He did not realize he was gifted with administrative and organizational skills that were the envy of many. While he was a family man devoted to his wife and children, he considered the camera club members his extended family. He was a gracious man who never took himself seriously. Jim loved to take photographs and have fun in the process. He was a man we all grew to love and respect.

Sadly on October 1, 1994 at an early age of 50 years Jim fell victim to a fatal heart attack. The James R. M. Spor Memorial Award for Outstanding Spirit and Dedication to the MWCC was established in 1995 in his honor.

Over the years the club has had its share of controversial issues ranging from how to present glamour photographs, sandwiched slides, film choices, and criteria for the levels of photographic expertise during competitions. The current film-digital issue will play itself out shortly just like past “the sky is falling” issues. Then we can spend more time doing what Jim wanted us to do, “take pictures and have fun” in the process.

The club has grown over the past 20 years in membership and the quality of photographs exhibited has improved. The selection of speakers for program night has improved and has challenged many of us with new techniques to try. Our workshop and field trip volunteers have given us the energy, enthusiasm, the hands-on opportunity to improve our photography. The club’s executive board has carried out the duties of the club in an excellent manner. The competition chairman has strived to invite judges who are knowledgeable in photography and are willing to provide constructive critique of our photographs. Our publicity volunteers have worked hard to find venues to exhibit and sell our photographs.

So tonight if you happen to step outside and it is a clear night with a bright moon shinning, it is not really the moon but Jim Spor smiling down on a very successful camera club founded in 1985.

Don Akers