Our origins go back to 1920
When it was founded in 1853, the stated aim of the Photographic Society (later to become “Royal”) was to “promote the Art and Science of Photography” and its earliest meetings and publications clearly show that that the latter aim was considered to be an important reason for its existence. Early photographic science was carried out primarily by “Victorian gentlemen” scientists but with the advent of large commercial photographic companies (e.g. Wratten and Wainwright, Croydon, in 1878; Eastman Photographic Materials Company Limited, London, in 1889) this progressively became more industrial based.
The Imaging Science Group (ISG) was formed in 1920 (we had a 75th ‘birthday party’ at the Royal Society in March 1995) under the original name of the ‘Scientific and Technical Group’ of the RPS.
The people involved in it at that time were largely scientists and technicians working in the photographic manufacturing industry, notably for Ilford or Kodak, or any one of the relatively large number of smaller photographic companies which existed at the time. It was formed primarily to produce Photographic Abstracts, a publication that was supported financially by the photographic industry. The Group also provided a forum for the discussion of photographic science and regular evening meetings were held in London at the then RPS HQ.
As a result of the growing interest in photographic science fostered by these discussions, The Photographic Journal, which had been published continuously by the RPS almost since its inception, began to be published in two sections – Phot.J. (A), devoted to pictorial photography and matters of general interest to members of the RPS, and Phot.J. (B) which contained ‘technical’ contributions. In order to clarify the basically scientific nature of the latter journal (i.e. with peer-reviewed, academically sound papers) its name was changed to the Journal of Photographic Science (JPS). More recently, in 1997 the journal was again renamed as the Imaging Science Journal in order to reflect coverage of all modern forms of imaging.
Since its inception, the ISG has had very close links with a formal Committee of the RPS, the Science Committee. The ‘original’ Science Committee was a curious arrangement in that it only occasionally came into being. When it did it was almost the same in terms of membership as the S&T Group Committee; the only difference was the addition of the RPS Secretary and the President of the Society. It was formally responsible for the publication of JPS and for the organisation of conferences – for which the ISG acted as its agent.
Evolution into the 21st century
The Group evolved significantly over the years following WW2. One reason for the changes was that the Companies that had been supportive of the Group, in particular by providing financial support for Phot. Abs., had begun to question the need for (and cost of) their involvement.
The then Group Secretary, Chris Roberts suggested that the technical meetings of the Group could be made into large-scale international conferences which could generate sufficient profit to support Phot. Abs. This initiative was successful in that the Group conferences not only provided the necessary backing for the Journal but also generated a large number of technical papers for publication in the JPS.
The membership of the Group was also changing throughout this period. It began to attract the interest and involvement of academics, the police, armed services and other government institutions (as reflected in the present composition of the Group Committee). Commercial competition grew, and with it came commercial confidentiality – trade secrecy – which has had a continuing impact on the exchange of technical information.
In the early 1990′s the name of the Group was changed from the ‘Scientific & Technical Group’ to the ‘Imaging Science & Technology Group’ (IS&T Group), the emphasis being on ‘imaging’ rather than just photography. Subsequently the name was shortened to the ‘Imaging Science Group’, in order to avoid confusion with the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, based in the USA, which had also changed its name and was commonly referred to as the IS&T.
At about the same time it was suggested by the RPS Executive and the ISG Committee (amongst others) that there was a need for properly regulated ‘vocational’ qualifications for those engaged professionally in the science and technology of imaging in general, to complement the distinctions available for photographic practice. One driving force behind this interest in qualifications concerned the matter of reciprocal recognition of professional competence throughout Europe. To establish suitable qualifications it was found necessary to re-establish a reformed Science Committee, appointed by the RPS Council rather than elected by the members of any particular Group. So the ‘new’ Science Committee came into being. Initially its primary role was to establish the vocational qualifications scheme and to act as an advisory body to the RPS Executive. Its relation to the IS&T Group and subsequently the ISG is largely undefined in any formal sense except that the Group Committee is elected and manages its own finances whereas the Science Committee is a body appointed by the Society and, as such, has no resources of its own. Some commonality of members ensures their work is complementary and responsibilities are divided as appropriate.