Open Letter Concerning the Demise of the Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, California
by Jeffrey Sward

September 14, 2008

Chuck Davis, President
The Board of Trustees
Center for Photographic Art
P.O. Box 1100
Carmel, CA 93921-9937

Dear Mr.Davis:

The reading of your letter of August 21 concerning the dire straits of the Center for Photographic Art caused a palpable sense of deja vu all over again and morbid inevitability. It was October 28, 2001 when this author wrote an obituary for the Friends of Photography under similar circumstances.

It may be useful to determine the exact constituent parts of a photographic arts organization. A photographic arts organization is the moronic convergence one or more visionaries, financial supporters, a geographic location and/or physical plant, a board, staff, and rank-and-file members. It is only when all of these elements coalesce that a photographic arts organization will even begin. A photographic arts organization also must develop an audience, which would tend to include rank-and-file members, non-member enthusiasts, and the general public. It might be hoped that the audience will generate additional new supporters. When homeostasis of these elements is achieved then the organization will exist for some time.

It can be noted that the Friends of Photography was formed and operated by the sheer physical energy of Ansel, as well has Ansel's endowment. However, even an endowment can be squandered, as was done by the Friends of Photography.

The Center for Photographic Arts was formed in part as a protest when the Friends of Photography moved from Carmel to San Francisco, beginning the death spiral of the Friends of Photography. Hence, the Center of Photograph Arts is the illegitimate child of father Ansel and mother Discontent.

It may also be useful to determine the causes of the demise of photographic arts organizations and then apply these principles to the Center for Photographic Arts.

  • Squandering of funds. The Center for Photographic Arts seems to have excelled here. It is interesting to note that the August 21 communication declined to articulate whether it was previous Executive Director or current Executive Director, or both, who were spendthrifts.
  • Shift to unenlightened management. After many years of membership, it was only 2005 when this author first traveled to the Center for Photographic Arts for a seminar. The author had a discussion with the serving Executive Director, who was already on an exit trajectory after 20 years of service. Certainly an outgoing director alone will disrupt any existing homeostasis. This would especially be true if knowledge of balancing supporters and audiences was lost. Or the departure itself might be the result of a premonition of demise.
  • Disruption of the supporting constituencies. It is of interest to note that the current Center of Photographic Art letterhead masthead consists of five names covering three-quarters of a linear inch. In years past the letterhead masthead consisted of approximately five linear inches of perhaps twenty names. Obviously fewer names are a result of some level of conflict.
  • Structural changes to photography and/or society. The simultaneous rise of digital photography and the demise of silver photography is a major systemic change which will ultimately affect the characteristics of Photographic Arts organizations. Refer to this author's "Personal Observations on the Death of Silver-Based Film Photography and Silver-Based Printing" located at
  • Loss of purpose.
  • Failure to respond to sociological changes.
  • Loss of personal knowledge of what made the organization work, usually through churn of personnel on all levels: director, board, staff, and rank-and-file.
  • To quote a Mr. Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

The above comments may be stating the obvious or represent no new information to the current Board of Trustees for the Center for Photographic Art. The prognosis is poor. Perhaps at this point the only option for the Center for Photographic Art will be whether its demise will be marked with a bang or a whimper.

Yours truly,


Jeffrey Sward


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