19 April 2017
Leslie Bowcock, who has died aged 90 years, was a former President of the Royal Photographic Society between 1980-1982, and the person responsible for initiating the Society’s move from London to Bath with the establishment of the Society’s National Photographic Centre. He joined the Society in 1958, gained his Associate in 1977, and chaired the Medical Group. He was only the second Associate to have been elected President.
Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1926, Leslie Bowcock was educated at Stoke High School and Birmingham University, qualifying in medicine in 1950. He returned to Stoke determined to become a specialist in Orthopaedic Surgery. During his training he started to take photographs in the hospital and by 1953 he was producing a great many prints in the corner of a very small X-ray darkroom At the end of that year he took advantage of an opportunity to enter general practice, but still continued working in the hospital, though increasingly his time was devoted to photography, and less and less to orthopaedic surgery.
By 1960 the need for proper photographic facilities for the whole hospital group became very apparent, and under Bowcock’s guidance a disused conservatory was turned into a studio, darkroom and finishing room. The development of post graduate medical education, together with the increase in training of non-medical specialists in the Health Service gave an impetus to the growth of medical photography, and under his direction the department grew substantially. The services it offered expanded to include audio-visual and television.
He took a particular interest in the training of medical photographers and towards the raising of the status of medical photographers within the National Health Service.
In 1968 he became a member of Institute of Medical and Biological Illustration (IMBI), becoming its chair the following year, at the same time as he became chair of the Society’s Medical Group. He was co-opted on the Society’s Council in 1972 and on to the Executive Committee two years later.
In 1976, at a time when the Society's financial position was perhaps at the lowest ebb, that he told the Executive that a building had been brought to his notice in Bath which might not only be suitable for its headquarters but for a really comprehensive National Photographic Centre. The idea of such a Centre had been mooted several times before, to serve not only as a central gallery and museum, but to house a number all the various bodies concerned with photography. Although such an idea had been welcomed when it was last raised in in the 1950s funding had not been forthcoming. When Bowcock was reminded of this his answer was “Well, why don’t we go it alone?“.
He persuaded members of the Executive to go to Bath, where they turned down the original suggestion, the building being far too big and too expensive. But the city offered the Octagon as an alternative and what became known as the Bath project was initiated. A committee was formed, and an appeal launched for £300,000.
Bowcock was elected a Vice-president of the Society and, appropriately, as the main instigator of the Bath project, he was President in the year in which the Centre became fully operative.
Away from the RPS Bowcock was a long-standing supporter of the Newcastle, (Staffs.) Camera Club.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, son Andrew and stepchildren John and Karen.
Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS
Image courtesy of Garry Swann.