There’s lots of talk about how to grow the photo industry. While there are a few observations I’d like to share on that front, first permit me some brief comments on CES and photo trade shows in general.
Nary a peep was heard from the photo side at the recent CES, aside from rumors about the coming demise of high-end DSLRs from certain makers. Ironic, since the photo industry had long ago thrown in with CES and its ethos. Moreover, while lots of companies sidestepped attending the big show for obvious reasons, there never was going to be any “photo” section—or, for that matter, major product reveals.
While some highly diverse manufacturers with photo segments did attend, in total you can chalk up another big event without any highlighted photo industry presence.
Of course, there was news on the computer and monitor side, with bigger displays and such that will appeal to pros and avid videographers and printmakers. However, any information on cameras, lenses, lighting gear and assorted photo goods will have to wait for coming regional shows in Berlin, Yokohama, Paris and the USA.
Given the circumstances that truncated the show dates in Vegas and that are bound to affect any such gathering in the near future, it’s a tricky business to predict any show or dates when we won’t have to resort to “virtual” get-togethers. Perhaps the time of “supershows” is over; that has certainly been the case for the photo segment in the last few years.
Evolving Approach to Photo Industry Shows
How do we as an industry muster the will (and gather the resources) to bring together people to educate and reinforce the message about the amazing technology and potential for personal expression, and income, that photography affords?
I must admit that my crystal ball is cloudy at best; what’s more, a Pollyanna attitude doesn’t quite line up with reality. I do know that the photo-imaging industry has the potential to serve our innate desire to communicate; to bind us together; to hopefully help us earn a living. It has also always provided an aspirational and creative environment for all who participate. Strong stuff.
Part of the answer to future growth may come from smaller efforts than massive booths and elaborate trade show displays. We might see a somewhat different approach to gatherings, both social and professional, whether in person or virtual. Further, it could be one that is “local” and that still maintains the connection between the industry and its customers in a way that speaks directly to their aspirations and reaches into the very communities in which they live.
Prints on the Wall
I recently took part in an exhibit held by a local arts council. They placed an open call for photographers to submit work for a year-end show. The response was overwhelming. There were more than 600 print submissions, all printed by the photographers themselves; a final 90 hung on the walls. There were intimate portraits, gorgeous landscapes, abstract views, as well as still life studio work.
Artist statements accompanied each image or set of images. Moreover, many of them spoke to the importance of photography in their personal, professional and creative lives. (Required reading for marketing departments?)
When I chatted with many of the participants, they told me they were thrilled the event even took place; that it helped reinforce the idea of being a part of a creative photographic community.
Too often, photographers are considered just a data group rounded up online by their “clicks of interest.” Subsequently, they get snowed under by targeted ads that pop up whenever they open their e-mail inbox.
This show was of the “hybrid” variety. The chosen work was available online and hung in a well-appointed gallery at a local academy of art. All health precautions were taken. As one of the gallery “sitters,” I was instructed to ensure that masks were worn and that each visitor displayed a “vax” certificate. Masks and sanitizer sat on the sign-in desk. On one weekend, tours were conducted by notable photographers and academicians; limited hourly groups were treated to contextual discussions and critiques.
On the Business Side
If you want to look at this event from a purely business standpoint, that is, products used and consumed, the show certainly generated the use of inkjet printers and papers (and some darkroom work); editing programs; cameras; lenses; tripods; flash; as well as more photo gear.
You might think this could not add up to much more than a trifling sum. However, expand the idea to other venues (more on this shortly) and you begin to get the picture.
More important, while the show was not hung in the Met, you could feel the pride photographers took in their work. You could see how the recognition as well as the experience encouraged them to keep working in their beloved craft. It spurred a sense of camaraderie among them. It also gave the art of photography a community spotlight; one that, for this arts council, will continue into the future.
The Local Approach
While manufacturers do their part to encourage the art and craft of photography, with workshop sponsorships, online tutorials and more, there’s no question the current situation has cramped everyone’s style.
Going local does not eliminate the problem. However, given certain protocols and guidelines, local shows offer minimum risk. I sure hope we don’t need them for long, but for now a search on the web reveals what protocols smaller venues apply in various localities.
The local, or regional, approach can serve as a great marketing and promotional venue for dealers. Contacting your local arts council or publicizing contests run by industry partners is a great way to start. You can cover costs by charging a small fee for entry, as well as for administrative, space and judging expenses.
Moreover, depending upon coordination with other venues and sponsors, there are even ways to make it a no-fee situation. Bringing in notable local photographers and faculty from nearby art programs also adds to the allure.
Some major “contests,” like the ones Nikon and Sony run annually, have established dealer promotional bases. You can also track down others online that are run by magazines, city festivals, etc. Some of them do not charge entrant fees. Of course, it’s all virtual and the pool of entrants is anything but local. In addition, other than a possible wall at a trade show (and magazine coverage from those magazines still in print version), it’s all online.
That’s okay. But sorry, the visual experience of an online image doesn’t come close to that of a well-done print. Furthermore, Zooming, while fine for the moment, falls far short of personal, face-to-face, albeit masked, interaction.
There are many ways to get involved with exhibitions. Some dealers with wall space run monthly exhibits in their shops. Others will sponsor library or “corridor” shows. You can find connections and ideas via a local arts council.
To get a sense of how all this works, google terms such as “photo contest” or “free photo contest.” You’ll see the setups used by organizations, by companies big and small, and by regional arts groups that often link exhibits to local festivals and events. Some of these events also offer cash or merchandise for “prize” winners. However, even an “honors” award setup might do.
The energy around a show manifests itself in many ways. It can generate creativity and activity among your customers. It shows your support for local photographers as well as celebrates their craft. And it also brings the photographic community in your area together, all around your business.
One of my favorite aspects of photokina was the wall upon wall of photographic exhibitions: in company booths; lining the hallways; and hung in dedicated galleries. Yes, the gear was there. However, what that gear, and the eye and mind of the photographer, produced was given its proper place of honor and importance.
Build a Photo/Art Base
Some cities, like Hamburg, see the potential of building a base for “photo/art” around an industry/public hybrid approach. Others draw support from photo manufacturers, local councils and chambers of commerce for gallery shows and talks; for instance, think Arles, Tbilisi, Perpignan, Cologne (still), Rotterdam and Santa Fe.
While some have been round for many years, each does a wonderful job in raising awareness of the art and craft of photography. What’s more, they do a great job for the venues and towns in which they are held and, of course, spread awareness about photography in the bargain.
I encourage you to link up with local organizations and venues to get started. Or organize your own. Hey, why not rent the barn and throw a show?