The Society for Photographic Education is a nonprofit membership organization that provides and fosters an understanding of photography as a means of diverse creative expression, cultural insight, and experimental practice. Through its interdisciplinary programs, services and publications, the society seeks to promote a broader understanding of the medium in all its forms through teaching and learning, scholarship, and criticism.
Joan and Nathan Lyons (around the kitchen table, Rochester, NY) with students
Prior to the 1960s, photography was taught primarily in departments of journalism at universities in the United States. The Society for Photographic Education (SPE) emerged at a time when art departments were beginning to offer photography in their curriculum. Nathan Lyons, then Assistant Director and Curator of Photography at the George Eastman House (now George Eastman Museum), recognized the newly emerging academic field; he coordinated and hosted a conference in November 1962 in Rochester, NY, to address the concerns of these educators. Beaumont Newhall, Walter Rosenblum, Arthur Sinsabaugh, Aaron Siskind, Henry Holmes Smith, John Szarkowski, Jerry Uelsmann, Clarence White, and Minor White, were among the 28 attendees at the “Invitational Teaching Conference.” Representing the intersection of fine art practice, education and history, these early participants aimed to formulate the goals, future, and improvement of photographic education. The first annual national conference was held in Chicago in 1963 and the articles of incorporation were signed in May 1964. By 1966, membership had expanded to 119 individuals including Barbara Crane, Robert Heinecken, Grace Mayer, and Barbara Morgan. Since its establishment, many noted artists, curators, and critics in the field of photography have been involved with SPE and its programs.
Today, the majority of SPE’s 1,800 members are fine art photographers, artists, educators, students, curators, critics, and historians. SPE is growing in bold, exciting ways in areas of K-12 education, community service and outreach, and expanding as an international non-profit organization to develop a broader understanding of how photography matters in the world. Through its programs and services—and through new initiatives that shift focus to more active ground—SPE seeks to promote a wider understanding of photography in all of its forms and to foster the development of its practice, teaching, scholarship, and critical analysis. SPE’s headquarters are located in Cleveland, OH, and the archives are maintained at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ.
Read SPE's By-Laws.