Twenty Years of the CCP: Early Years

Twenty years along is a funny thing, a lot can happen in that (seemingly) short time and the story of the CCP is no different. My previous gig as a lecturer and course coordinator in South Australia (pre-CCP) was at another Institution which proved to me to be a very frustrating experience, however it steeled my determination to found my own school some twenty years ago.


I first needed a name for the project and having returned from the USA where I lived in Philadelphia for the best part of four years again as an art educator, I settled on The Centre for Creative Photography as a nod to another Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Not only is it one of the the most prestigious centre for photographic education in America, it also houses the entire W.Eugene Smith photographic archives amongst other noteable contributors to the history or photography. This name was registered as a business on January 31 1997 which just happens to be the birthday of my artistic mentor from graduate school, Professor John Weiss, as a nod towards everything he did for me when I was a graduate student of his at the University of Delaware.

After researching possible locations for the CCP I found a modest but suitable building at 11 Union Street in Stepney. After setting up a “Business Plan” I went to my bank with cap in hand to apply for the requisite funds to start on a lease, construction and to move in to the CCP to start classes. The first class was held on Saturday May 10 of 1997 essentially with five students and one independent study – Mike Lim who is now lecturing as part of the CCP teaching crew. Initially I supplemented the income by having Four Seasons Photography – Ken Binns and Kristina Jansons as tenants; they occupied our Gallery “The Light Gallery at the Centre” which was in the front office. Paula Alexander was a”teaching assistant” who was also finding her legs as an independent photographic business and we contra’d a bit of space for her in exchange for some front of house and administration. I later mentored Paula to become the second teaching member of the crew.

Union Street was a modest 190 square meters compared to the current CCP which is about 660 square meters, but with just six students and me we had plenty of space.  As we slowly grew in student numbers and classes, so did the crew associated with the CCP. there were a few more teaching crew including Mike Lim and Ken Binns and the place was looking a lot more like the school I wished it to look like. By 2002 when we were then averaging 100 students each term and the CCP had become an RTO, it was becoming clear that I needed to start thinking about relocating the school to a larger premises, that however was not to be realised until 2004 with the finding and negotiating of the current space in Marleston with the entire move and reopening in 2005 some (nearly) eight years after we opened in 1997. At that stage, I’d never imagined just how large the CCP was to become, I’d initially seen it as a “Mom and Pop” business and not the RTO it has become, thanks to the belief of a LOT of people who have passes through the doors.

Looking at the original floor plan, I do wonder just how we managed to fit everything in, but of course we did. Just as a point of reference though the Main studio was about 4.5x5.5 m, smaller than studio 3!

A great time was had there though, studio, darkroom and conceptual classes, exhibition openings and of course a lot of people who completed their studies there, are still making work, which is a great thing to experience – I’m so very proud to have been a part of their artistic education.

Funnily enough I had a small office in the roof line at the very back of the building, which was referred to as “Cambodia” essentially because it was seemingly 10C hotter than on the ground floor on any given day; this though good in the Winter, was “interesting” to say the least in the Summer as there was no air conditioning whatsoever! This illustration shows how the space looks today – courtesy of real estate dot com and I’ve inlaid an historical image of me conversing with someone over a book at my desk one evening – many people hit their heads on that ceiling when they stood up! I still have that same desk at Marleston to this day, just veneered particle board across two filing cabinets.


It was a Saturday and Introduction to the Darkroom had four students, that combined with two people studying independently with me gave us a total of six students. The Centre for Creative Photography was a school.

In the second Term there (which is the academic year 3rd Term) students made pinhole cameras with their Camera 2 class and in that class were two very noteable members of the group – Mike Lim who now teaches here and Sue Michael who is an accomplished painter/artist who has held solo exhibitions of her work at the Light Gallery amongst other venue. Sue was also runner up for last year’s (2016) National A.I.P.P. Contemporary Photography Award – here they are those 20 years ago standing with the rest of their class for their first “group portrait”.

I overlaid this image in situ overlaid with a current photograph of the original building just to give you an idea of where they were at the time.

We managed to doubled our numbers in Term 4 to 12!  After that, things grew at a reasonably steady rate each Term there after.

So the CCP was actually starting to even “feel” like a real school and probably to this end, I clearly remember my excitement when in Term 3 2000 we managed to reach a coveted 70 – I’m not sure why this was seemingly so significant for me at the time, however I think it must have seemed like a goal worth aiming for, which seems funny now as we average 150 students each Term, workshops notwithstanding. This was also the same year the CCP became a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) offering a Certificate II and IV in Creative Photography…the CCP was certainly growing up, and digital cameras weren’t quite knocking on our door.

>>>Thanks so much for reading this first instalment as we look back at twenty years of the CCP. Stay tuned for more thoughts on how the CCP got where it is today!

Gavin Blake7 Comments