Ainsley Harris ’26
On April 5, as Seal Court was bursting with activity during Wednesday Tea, I sat down to talk with Carolyn Coyne PO ’25 and Marvin Heilbronn PO ’25, the founders and co-presidents of the 5C’s newest club: The 5C Photography Club.
The 5C Photography Club is the third iteration of a photography club at the 5Cs. Photography clubs are infamous for their impermanence at The Claremont Colleges.
“I talked to some people, upperclassmen, and they were like ‘yeah, photo club has just always died out,’” Coyne told me. With the history of previous photography clubs in mind and a desire for a photography community, Heilbronn and Coyne founded a photography club intended to last that is centered around community, inclusivity, and accessibility.
Even before coming to The Claremont Colleges, photography was an important part of both Heilbronn and Coyne’s academic and extracurricular lives. They wanted to continue to pursue photography at the 5Cs; however, they found an unfortunate lack of photography presence on campus.
“Honestly, I was surprised that the 5Cs didn’t have a photography club to begin with,” said Heilbronn. “We have a lot of niche clubs that are so unique to a specific passion, and I just think that photography as a whole should definitely have a space.”
The lack of a photography club was not the only disappointment they encountered when trying to find a photography community. Getting into photography classes as the 5Cs was harder than they expected.
“So many people try to PERM in and it never happens,” said Coyne. “I think there is not enough photo classes and not enough art faculty to support the community of artists that are here.”
While Coyne and Heilbronn are both enrolled in photography classes this semester, they created The 5C Photography Club as a response to the challenge of getting into photography classes and to the lack of an extracurricular photography presence on campus.
“It [starting the club] was really just about creating a community,” said Heilbronn. “I wanted to share that opportunity with other 5C students.”
While there was undoubtedly a need for a photography club on campus, establishing the club was not without its challenges. While the club was a passion project for the two co-presidents, it also required months of logistical work. “I did have a couple meetings: One to meet in general just about starting and just propose the club and have it approved, one for securing a room which was actually more difficult than I thought, and another to talk about funding,” Heilbronn shared.
Further, since the club was founded this semester, months after the club fair last fall, recruiting members and spreading the word presented its own unique challenges.
“One thing that we used was social media,” said Coyne. “We both used Instagram, and would post on our Instagrams. We created a 5C photography Instagram, using that to promote, and just simple world of mouth. I would just go around talking about it to people. Having really tangible interactions with people matters a lot… it really helps you start something from the bottom up.”
As labor intensive as forming the club and recruiting was, their work paid-off as the photography club now hosts regular meetings and has a steady, growing membership. Coyne and Heilbronn stressed in their promotions that anyone is invited to join.
The 5C Photography Club is centered around inclusivity and accessibility. They welcome anyone of any skill level, any amount of experience, using any camera — including their iPhone camera. “The goal of the club is to just have people who feel this passion, whether they are advanced and have been doing it for years or if they are just starting,” said Heilbronn.
Moreover, as the club grows and receives more funding, the co-presidents are working to provide solutions to any financial or technological barriers that prevent anyone from participating in photography.
“One thing is going to be funding a camera library,” said Heilbronn. “Right now we are aiming for two digital cameras and two film cameras and some of that funding towards buying and developing film.”
While several members use their iPhones to take pictures, access to digital and film cameras will help members learn new types of photography and new skills without any financial expense or needing to be enrolled in a course.
Even without funding from the school, Heilbronn and Coyne laid a strong foundation for the club and provided meaningful, educational experiences at club meetings and field trips. Heilbronn and Coyne lead lessons or demos at club meetings. They introduce photographers and discuss how to emulate their techniques. They also teach software skills such as Photoshop; teach members how to use the software and speak candidly about their own experience with the platform.
“Adobe is great,” said Coyne. “They have dozens of videos, but I think, at least from when we’ve worked with our club members, I think it’s helpful to have us physically there being really honest about the trouble I’ve had with Adobe, and how long it took me to learn. I still struggle with Photoshop a lot.”
The club also goes on group field trips where they receive hands-on, immediate instruction and feedback. In the future, they’d like to go to the Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles, Mt. Baldy, and anywhere else members want to shoot. Heilbronn sees these as great opportunities for members to gain experience “looking through the camera, taking the photo, and then being able to, in that moment, get feedback and say, ‘How can I adjust my settings? How can I frame that better?’ and then continue on.”
Coyne’s favorite part of the club are the monthly projects. The club workshops a theme together, shoots individually or in groups, and then they all come together and present their work to the club.
“The first one was a candid photography project. We tried to create a balance of having a project that was specific on one theme, but was very open ended,” said Heilbronn. “We wanted to have the room for people to create what they wanted, but also see what people created with such an open ended theme.”
Beyond just showcasing their work at meetings, the club also features student photography as ‘artist features’ on their Instagram @5cphotoclub. The club is also planning an end of semester gallery.
If you’re interested in The 5C Photography Club or want to view spectacular photography then check out their gallery! The event will be held at Scripps — date and location is still pending — so keep your eyes on the 5cphotoclub Instagram for updates.
Image Source: Carolyn Coyne PO ’25