The Royal Photographic Society Journal is the oldest continuously published photographic periodical in the world. The first issue appeared on 3 March 1853 and, with slight changes to its frequency and format, it has been published ever since. The RPS Journal has covered the artistic and technical developments within photography, it has recorded many of the key personalities and events and, of course, it has reported on Society activities.
The need for a Journal had been defined as essential even before The Society was formed on 20 January 1853. The new Society appointed a publication committee in February and the Journal of the Photographic Society commenced publication on 3 March 1853. The first editor was Arthur Henfrey FRS. When Roger Fenton retired as secretary of The Society in January 1856, the offices of secretary and editor were combined and the Rev J R Major held the post until June 1857 when William Crookes replaced him. He, in turn, was replaced by Hugh Welch Diamond until December 1868 when John Spiller assumed the role. In February 1880 William de W Abney took over.
The Journal’s print run started at 800, significantly more than the membership at the time, and quickly rose to 4000, with earlier numbers being reprinted. It settled to around 3000 and then remained just slightly more than The Society’s membership. It currently stands at around 11,000 each month.
The Journal volumes were numbered consecutively from No. 1 (1853-54) to 16 (1873-76). A new series was introduced in 1876 (1, old series 17). The new series was discontinued in 1937 and the Journal reverted to the original numbering, so, 1936 (NS 60, old series 76) and from 1937 (77). This volume numbering has remained in use ever since with 2012 being volume 152.
The Society’s Journal is considered important for a number of reasons. It, along with the British Journal of Photography (1854) and Photographic News (1858) are key sources for British photography during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Society itself is important within the context of British photography from 1853 to the present day and the Journal has recorded its activities and personalities. The Journal has also reported scientific and technical developments, artistic questions and many of the wider debates within photography, particularly before 1939.
The Society’s own exhibition catalogues (which formed one issue of the Journal for much of the Journal’s history) and exhibition reports are a key resource for the understanding of photography’s stylistic development. The Journal has reproduced photographs that are not illustrated anywhere else from photographers, many well-known, from the early 1900s.