Open Letter Concerning the Demise of the Friends of Photography, San Francisco, California
by Jeffrey Sward

October 28, 2001

Richard C. Edwards
Acting Interim Director
David Madson
President, Board of Trustees
The Friends of Photography
Ansel Adams Center
655 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Mr. Edwards and Mr. Madson: 

I have received with sadness your note concerning the passing of the Friends of Photography.  With the benefit of hindsight, combined with the contents of your letter, and my experience with the Friends, some factors became obvious:

  • I have been a member since around 1989.  The reasons I joined were primarily for workshops and publications.  As noted, these programs were gradually eliminated in the early 1990s.  However, this offended the existing base member constituency. 
  • The move the San Francisco was probably driven by new management's attempt to broaden the interest base within a larger city.  A greater emphasis was placed on gallery.  Did or does San Francisco need another look alike photography gallery?  Did the extra expense of high cost San Francisco really attract a broader base?  A negative answer to both questions.
  • Over the years there seems to have been difficulty in attracting directors.  Some effort was taken to create the title "Active Interim Director," presumably because of two quick successive resignations.  Difficult to attract talent with an overly broad set of objectives.  
  • Ansel's vision was certainly very specific.  The original direction was changed as noted in your letter.  Human nature guarantees change in vision with change of management, unless other strong institutional factors exist.  In one sense it is remarkable that Ansel's vision lasted as long as it did.  On the other hand, how much of the demise of the Friends is attributable to deviation from a working formula?
  • Should the base constituency have moved from the original set of either very serious photographers and people with a very keen interest to more of a general public proselytizing effort?  Probably not. 

Best wishes to everyone associated with The Friends, as it is certain that efforts were well intentioned. 

Yours truly,


Jeffrey Sward


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