School Photography: Celebrating 98 Years of Capturing Memories and Providing Safety in Schools Across America
School Photographers of America was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic when the entire US closed down schools in March of 2020. With no school picture days and the country in a financial crisis, health pandemic and with unemployment at a historic high, an executive from Strawbridge Studios Inc. had a vision to rally the industry to protect all school photographers' copyrights and raise awareness of our industry, as so many small businesses were being left behind by government aid. His vision was to ensure that the industry and long-standing American tradition would be protected and preserved for many centuries to come through advocacy and compliance.
On March 26th, 2020 – ten companies shared his vision and built what we know today as School Photographers of America. In a period of one of our country’s most trying times, these leaders and their staff rallied to build an organization that protected the copyright law for pictures and the national awareness of our industry. School photography has been a staple for schools and parents across the United States for generations. School pictures are used every day for student safety through products like ID Cards, safety cards, digital directories and urgent safety initiatives like Amber Alerts. In addition, other industries rely on school photography for the creation of their products such as yearbooks, administration software, online learning and many more. School photography plays an integral part in all US public and private schools.
School Photographers of America is the premier association for school photography companies and school photographers and serves as the national voice for all photographers on Capitol Hill.
We are an organization dedicated to ensuring the health and vitality of the school photographic industry.
Our mission is to advocate on behalf of our members and protect their copyrights, as well as establish and govern healthy standards and best practices for the school photography industry.
THE HISTORY OF
School Photographers of America has done extensive research with national archives and has come to the conclusion that the first organized company to formally facilitate school photography traces back to 1922.
The story goes that a man employed by Wilson Magazine Company, a camera company, was really good friends with the Superintendent of Philadelphia Public School System. The Superintendent asked his buddy at Wilson for a favor. He said his schools were making folders for students' cumulative records and his Principals realized that they really wanted a picture to go in the file so they could remember what each child looked like to ensure they were discussing the correct ones. The friend told the Superintendent absolutely, as long as he could sell them to the parents to help pay for the service. That story spread and started to sell schools on the concept of taking student pictures for record keeping purposes while giving parents the option of purchasing one picture for 10 cents and six pictures for 50 cents.
After learning of the huge interest and success, S. P. Barksdale elected to start his own company, Barksdale School Portraits, later that year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As Barksdale traveled and expanded his business from state to state he came in contact with a sharecropper, J. E. Strawbridge, in North Carolina, and shared his vision for the industry. Based on that one conversation, J.E. Strawbridge left farming immediately to become a photographer, and within a year, started his own business in Durham, North Carolina. He formed Strawbridge Studios, Inc in 1923, where he focused on taking classroom pictures and fall pictures in schools across the southeast.
Like all business ideas, it took little to no time for the idea of school photography to spread across the country. These companies built many of their own “box” cameras with long rolls of film to capture the vast number of students in each school. Their focus was to capture a head and shoulder look on each student that is consistent and would allow schools and parents to see the progression and journey of each child through the years in education.
In the 1930’s there was a boom of photography companies opening across the country. Even as the concept spread, most of the Midwest and West Coast only did class pictures outside of the school house. However, one gentleman named Guy Snyder, from Sedalia, Missouri was working for Julius Stern’s Hollywood Studios and presented the concept of offering both individual and class pictures to schools. Because of the Great Depression, people were wary of traveling salesmen and paying for a product before they saw it. So, Guy formed his own company, Inter-State Studio and Publishing Co to take both class and individual pictures to send home and let parents decide what to keep and pay for and what to send back. That huge risk and trust paid off and allowed his company to grow rapidly across the Midwest. Inter-State is still owned and operated by the Snyder family.
Stories like these are the foundation for our industry- vision from entrepreneurs and great partnerships that focused on becoming real partners in education. While these are only a few examples of companies and leaders that made their mark on our industry, there are hundreds of school photography companies across the United States today. Amazingly enough, two of the three pioneers of this industry, Strawbridge and Inter-State Studio, are founding members of this association to help ensure school children and their families keep this great American tradition in schools across our great land.