Nearly 10 years ago when Joe Whitmore was working part-time at Brandfon Honda in Branford, he responded to an ad in the newspaper about forming a camera club. He and his wife, Darlene, met Rich Zemba, Bill Rothfuss, Dave Rathburn, and Terry Russo at the North Haven Library and the North Haven Camera Club was born.

“Rich was a member of a camera club in New Haven and had the idea,” says Joe. “We were all interested in photography and found it was a great way to get together and meet people.”

Though it’s called the North Haven Camera Club and it meets at the Hope Christian Church’s community room, the club draws members from throughout the area, including Northford, North Branford, East Haven, Guilford, Wallingford, and more.

Joe has since retired and over the years has become more and more involved with the club. He’s currently serving as the president and his wife heads up the club’s publicity. Though Joe’s interest in photography goes back to the 1980s, Darlene discovered her interest through Joe.

When photography began moving toward digital, Joe was resistant at first as he had always enjoyed film and developing his own pictures. He has since embraced the technology, helped along by a gift from his wife, which also sparked her interest.

“Just before the camera club was formed, she bought me a new digital camera and got interested in taking her own pictures with it,” says Joe. “She took a course at the community college and now I think she’s a better photographer than I am.”

Both Joe and Darlene enjoy photographing a wide variety of subjects, though Darlene prefers macrophotography and birds and Joe’s favorite subject is landscapes. The couple has several bird feeders in their yard and lots of “well-fed” birds who visit.

Since the founding meeting nine years ago, the club has grown to now include 85 members. The club meets the first and third Tuesday of the month from September through June. The first Tuesday is generally a workshop or a guest speaker and the second meeting is a competition with a theme.

Like many organizations, Joe and the North Haven Camera Club have had to find ways to adapt to the Stay Home, Stay Safe order. Joe is in the midst of revamping the club’s website and the club will hold its April competition—eyes—online.

“Every month, members enter their pictures and we have judges come in from different camera clubs,” says Joe. “Now, with the in-person meetings canceled, Bill Rothfuss and Laura Parisi have done a lot of work for members to enter digitally. It’s not the same as getting everyone together, but it’s the best we can do with everything up in the air right now.”

During regular in-person competition meetings, most photos are displayed digitally, though there is also a category for prints. Three judges attend the meetings and score all of the entered photos from 6 to 10. The photographer can also request comments and suggestions on how to improve the photo. There are various categories within the theme, including prints and manipulated images, as well as beginner, medium, and advanced levels.

“It’s a learning experience and it’s fun,” says Joe. “We give out ribbons and at the end of the year, we have someone come in to judge the picture of the year and there’s a trophy with a gold ceramic camera that’s passed down each year.”

While the competitions are open only to members of the North Haven Camera Club, Joe notes that the club is always seeking new members. The meetings are also open to the public if someone wants to see what the club is about before joining.

“If people want to come, they can come anytime without joining and at the competitions, they can make themselves comfortable and see some great photos or come to a meeting to hear a speaker,” says Joe, noting that there are select events or speakers that do have a fee. “We’re very welcoming and we have members from many towns—we’re damn friendly, we enjoy meeting people, we enjoy getting together, and we have fun.”

The club offers memberships for students, families, and individuals and the dues—ranging from $30 to $65 annually—include membership for the year, learning programs, hands-on workshops, photo walks, monthly competition entries, and more. In addition to seeking members, the club is also looking for those interested in joining the board, noting a particular need for a webmaster. Joe also notes that the club welcomes people of all abilities and learning opportunities at every level.

“We have members who use everything from cell phones to point-and-shoot to DSLR cameras—and some who still use film,” says Joe. “We have also been entering our members’ photos in regional and national photo competitions and doing very well at it.”

For those who aren’t ready to make the commitment to joining the North Haven Camera Club but still want to share their love of photography, Joe suggests liking the club’s Facebook page where it shares images as well as opportunities for sharing work or entering competitions.

The club is also teaming up with the North Haven Land Trust to promote the Town of North Haven Trail Association’s Tidal Marsh Trail. The club will be hosting a contest of images taken along the walk. Information will be posted to the club’s website in early April and submissions can be emailed to northhavencameraclub@gmail.com.

In addition to working with town groups like the land trust, the club also does community outreach through events like holiday food drives or photography for events such as the Boys and Girls Club’s Day for Kids on the North Haven Green.

“We try to get involved where we can with the town,” says Joe. “The town and church have also been supportive of us. [First Selectman] Mike Freda has always been helpful and Pastor Jim [Detweiler] is very good to us.”

Joe has enjoyed meeting so many people through the club over the years, all while learning more about his passion for photography. He is impressed with the growth the club has seen since its inception.

“We started at the library and then moved to the rec center, but we grew out of that and met Pastor Jim, who’s been very kind to us,” says Joe. “We never thought it would be this big. When we got to 30 members, we thought it was a huge amount and now we have 85.

“Our members are very diversified and we have many people from different walks of life,” says Joe. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s great meeting so many nice people. It’s fun to be with people from so many different walks of life with the same interest.”

For information, visit www.northhavencameraclub.com.

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