The origin of Viewpoint Photographic Art Center (formerly Sacramento Valley Photographic Art Center) dates back to the early 1980s, when Jeff Redman and Jim Galvin opened Lightwork, a camera store on 57th Street in Sacramento. Shortly after the store's opening, a small gallery was added. The gallery was not an afterthought but an integral part of the plan for the store, a way for the owners to "give back" to photography.
The Lightwork Gallery never supported itself financially and by 1990 was facing closure. Meanwhile, Redman and other local photographers had been discussing plans to create a nonprofit gallery to serve the Sacramento area. In a series of meetings it was determined that the best course would be to form a nonprofit organization that, as part of its mission, would open and operate a gallery. In 1991, the Sacramento Valley Photographic Art Center (SVPAC) was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation, with its declared mission being to provide photographic education to the community by exhibiting historic and contemporary photographs, and by presenting lectures and discussions on the history, techniques, criticism, and aesthetics of photography. There were about 175 charter members, most of whom are still active, and several of whom have often served on the Viewpoint board.
SVPAC began to take shape in the later months of 1991. A Board of Directors was chosen, a membership drive began, a logo was selected, a newsletter was published, and new gallery space was rented in the same complex as Lightwork. After much discussion of what the gallery should be called, and review of more than 100 suggestions, the gallery was christened Viewpoint in October 1991.
In May 1992, the Viewpoint Gallery presented its first exhibit. The first member show was held in August/September 1992.
In early 1992, a fine print program was established to raise funds and encourage new membership. Several prominent photographers from California donated photographs to get the program started.
The Viewpoint Gallery continued to operate at its 57th Street address through 1993 and into 1994. Membership increased, exhibits were hung, and attendance grew, but the organization was not generating the income necessary to pay the rent and other expenses. By mid-1994 the financial situation was becoming critical, threatening the existence of Viewpoint Gallery and the organization itself.
At this point, the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center (SAMCC) offered to provide space for Viewpoint in the SAMCC facility at 551 Sequoia Pacific Boulevard. In exchange for the space, Viewpoint was to help with some of SAMCC's projects and schedule one exhibit a year from material in their archives. SAMCC's generous offer was quickly accepted, and in June 1994, Viewpoint moved into its new space.
The move immediately eased the financial situation, but a lot of work remained to put Viewpoint on a solid basis and to improve the gallery space. In 1999, an annual Fine Print Auction and Drawing was initiated. The Fine Print Auction and Drawing, which features the auctioning of prints by Viewpoint members as well as some major figures in contemporary photography, continues to be a primary source of revenue for the organization. As Viewpoint grew, the amount of work required to operate the gallery, mount exhibits, manage membership, publish a newsletter, and perform other essential functions was increasingly testing the limits of the volunteers doing the bulk of the work. To address this problem, the Board authorized the paid part-time position of Executive Director, which was filled in January 2003.
Next came a change of both name and---far more importantly---address. Sacramento Valley Photographic Arts Center became Viewpoint Photographic Art Center. Common usage is and was to refer to the organization as "Viewpoint" and the new name was chosen to reflect that as well as to suggest a broader and less geographically limiting organization. The address change was a major milestone triggered by Viewpoint's being asked to leave the space it used gratis because SAMCC needed to expand. After an extensive search, on April 1, 2008, Viewpoint moved to an existing gallery space at 2015 J. Street, Suite 101, Sacramento. Viewpoint now needed to pay rent and thus needed to generate even more revenue. At the same time the Executive Director position was made full time, but only through the end of 2008 when the position was eliminated and Viewpoint again was run only by its many volunteers.
The first show in the new gallery was held June 3, 2008. The new space is so much more visible in the heart of Midtown Sacramento that visitors number in the thousands rather than hundreds and membership grew to greater than 500. January 2010 brought the opening of a second and interconnected space called the "Step Up Gallery."
Since Viewpoint Gallery opened in 1992, there has been a continuous schedule of exhibits and events. The range of styles and techniques displayed in the exhibits has spanned the photographic spectrum: traditional silver black-and-white and color processes; alternative approaches such as pinhole, Polaroid manipulation, and platinum prints; candid images taken by members of the Sacramento Boys & Girls Club with disposable cameras; and the works of well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams, Ruth Bernhard, Roy DeCarava, Imogen Cunningham, John Sexton, and Marion Post Wolcott. Reflecting and recognizing the new facets of photography, digital images have been more frequently represented in Viewpoint's exhibits as well as traditional disciplines.
Viewpoint has also presented a wide range of workshops by leading photographic teachers, organized numerous field trips to exciting Northern California sites, and hosted lectures and presentations by prominent photographic artists. The opportunity for members to show and sell their work has been greatly expanded in the new gallery. Participation in the recurring critique of work by members---called simply "Print Night"---increased greatly and was changed from monthly to twice monthly.