The Italian photo club culture

I’ve always insisted that American society is unique in its amazing community spirit that affords people the ability to start new things by getting together informally, united by a common goal. Individualism coming with a great sense of trust in a self-selected community.

Maybe that’s the reason I was so surprised to discover a thriving, historic photo club tradition in Italy that I haven’t observed elsewhere. Almost every Italian city has a photo club, most dating since the end of WWII. They started with the goal of sharing knowledge and experience in photography at a time when it wasn’t considered a subject matter for art schools – it was a craft to be learned through experimentation and from peers. So these clubs both satisfied and spurred the huge amateur interest in photography in postwar Italy that produced the likes of Mario Giacomelli and Letizia Battaglia. The Italian photo club federation, founded in 1948, is a testament to that fervor and a glance at each club’s website reveals a very strong production of compelling images over the decades.

I had the chance to visit one such club, located in Gallarate (a mid-size town in Northern Italy) that utterly impressed me with its activity and intellectual pursuit of image making. The club has a membership of 80 and roughly half of them attend the weekly meetings, aside from the numerous exhibitions and other events they organize.

The meeting I attended happened to focus on the theoretical aspect of photography’s communication capacity. The two presenters started with the theories of Roland  Barthes and Walter Benjamin and questioned its communicative function through historic and on-the-spot case studies. The lively friendly debate, which easily filled two hours, examined from divergent points of view whether photography has its own independent meaning – or even a code. I left with the conviction, though, that despite the technical mediation of the camera, where the human being pressing the button has a seemingly small role, photography is still an art loaded with intention.

The passion of these photographers to discuss what they do in abstract terms is truly refreshing. I am sure it is only possible because of the outsider status of photography, which has made it feel open and free of hierarchy.  A truly intellectually stimulating, knowledgeable and friendly community.  I am so looking forward to keeping up with them. Shall I also add that the club’s regular meetings are held during Friday’s happy hour, from 9:30PM on, and followed by a friendly convivial get-together?


2 responses to “The Italian photo club culture

  1. Desperately looking for photo club in Italy. I,ll take 2 photo workshop there this fall : from September 13 to 23 Amalfie cost and from October 12 to 19 Venice. I have reserved an apart in Veronne from October 3 rd to 10 th. I very much would. Like to joing a group for outings either around Napples (beginning of the week 23 September) Cinque Terra before the October 3. Unfortunately I do not speak Italian, but I am French Canadian. So I speak French and English and a little Spanish.

  2. Daniele, there is a famed photo club in Venice and the website has an English version. I don’t know about Naples, but Amalfi is closer to Salerno where you can find a photo club at – I bet they can answer your contact request either in English or French if you write at “contatti”, or For Cinque Terre, the closest one is in La Spezia and the photo club is at, contact email I don’t know these clubs personally but my impression is that they are always friendly and open to visitors. Hope this helps!

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