Reflections at 40

Four decades of photos, art and fun

By David Kiner

What do you feel and visualize when you hear the words solitude, neglect, passion, joy, surprise or isolation? Do you think you could capture each in a photograph? You could. We all have the gift of imagination and creativity and, like all beautiful artwork, photography tells simple stories.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sandhills Photography Club. Established in 1983, it’s an integral part of this community, attracting photographers of all skill levels, from an amateur with a cellphone to gifted professionals with a trunk full of gear. “We have a wonderful complement of experience and skill levels among our members,” says Jacques Wood, president of SPC. “Regardless of experience level, club members love photography, are ready to learn new techniques, and enjoy sharing and seeing the work of others.”

Brian Osborne, owner of The Photo Classroom and founder of the Professional Photography Group, Charlotte’s largest professional photography team, had this to say about the club: “Over the years, I have spoken to a wide variety of camera and photography clubs but SPC is hands down my favorite. The thing that I love most about this organization is not only the community they share, but their earnest desire to learn and grow.”

Photography has changed dramatically over the past four decades but the principles have remained the same — finding ways to capture moments, stopping time through light, composition, texture and color. In 1983 the Club began with nine members and grew quickly to 25, with many knee-deep in the chemicals found in their darkrooms. Today the club is 100 strong and its members are knee-deep in pixels instead.

Local artist and founding member of the Artists League of the Sandhills and SPC, Betty Hendrix, remembers those early days. “We were still using slides to view our work, or physically bringing photos in for display. And the word Zoom was a children’s TV program,” she says.

Linda Piechota has been a member of the club for 34 of its 40 years. “I recall, way back then, being kind of ambivalent about entering a contest, and showing my first photo. How silly of me. We are more like a family than a club. None of us could have imagined how things have changed with technology. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion I see in our members.”

The club is impressively comprehensive with its own website, a monthly newsletter called “In Focus,” workshops, field trips, exhibitions and competitions. The William Stoffel Awards, named after one of the club’s co-founders, are presented annually to members accumulating the greatest number of competition points in each of the competitive tiers. The competitions are held every other month with the themes identified in advance. It’s the job of the photographer to capture what they feel best describes that theme. Submitted photographs are judged by an outside professional who both encourages and provides constructive feedback, an essential part of the growth of the members.

Like a composer who writes musical compositions, photographers don’t simply take snapshots. They can capture distant galaxies or extreme closeups. The heavens are vast and astonishing, but so are the tiniest of details found in the pistil of a flower or the mystery in the face of an insect. To see what others don’t is a common theme among those who fall in love with photography. You become increasingly aware of what’s around you.

“Hard work and staying with it is the key, and not being afraid to shoot, shoot, and shoot more,” says Walter Morris, an early club member and its second president. Once, on a two-week trip to Africa, Morris took over 7,000 photos. He kept “the 20 I liked. What makes a photo great? Well, you know it when you see it.”

Like all artistic endeavors, photographers grow by learning from others and exploring new scenes. “In this club, we learn so much from each other,” says Susan Bailey, coordinator of the club’s outings and a board member. Her love affair with photography started over 40 years ago. She’s in charge of full-day or half-day outings that range from trips to the beautiful gardens in Raleigh or Durham, pontoon excursions on Jordan Lake, or even the marvels of the North Carolina Zoo. “It’s wonderful to go on the club’s group outings,” says Bailey. “There is as much laughter as there is the clicking of our cameras.”

The club is also known for its two- or three-day field trips, headed up by Gary Magee, another long-standing member and a former two-term club president. This past spring the members went to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Other trips have taken members to the North Carolina mountains, its beaches, or even to the marshes and dunes of Amelia Island, Florida. “The idea of traveling in a group is very special,” says Magee. “We can dine together, stay at the same hotel and enjoy the beautiful gifts of living in the South.”

As with most of today’s activities, new technologies have continued to be a driving force for all the members. During the pandemic, the Sandhills Photography Club quickly adopted Zoom. Now its members and guests, far and wide, can participate in the vast number of activities the club offers. “Zoom made such a positive impact on us. At first it was just a means to stay together, to hold our sanity. But to our surprise it has expanded our membership base,” says Jerry Kozel, co-chairman of the club’s competition committee. “We have folks from all over the United States, South Africa and Australia involved.” Zoom also allows the club to reach out to professional photographers from all over the country who serve as judges in its bi-monthly competitions. “These are men and women with enormous experience who give such worthwhile advice,” says Kozel. “We store that information on our website so members who have missed a meeting can watch it at a later date.”

Technological advances extend well beyond communications software. Today’s cameras are getting smaller, more sophisticated, and moving to mirrorless models. Improvements in image sensors and lenses are astronomical. Cameras have more automated features like face and object recognition. Who knows what artificial intelligence software will bring? But one thing never changes — the conversation between the artist and the viewer. In the meantime, the members of the SPC will continue to find solace and joy in their love of photography.  PS

David Kiner is a member of the Sandhills Photo Club and a former faculty member at Syracuse University.  He happily resides in Southern Pines and can be reached at

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