THE FOURTH DIMENSION

THE FOURTH DIMENSION

by Roger W. Hicks

At this year’s photokina, held in late September in Cologne, Germany, we had numerous reporters covering the show; their full reports will appear in our January issue. As an addendum, Roger Hicks submitted an overview, with comments that capture the spirit of the event. As a hint of what's to come in the full show report issue (out in December) I thought they were an excellent description of the mood of this often overwhelming gathering of the world photo industry.--Editor

photokina is a month older than I am: the first show was in May, 1950. The show is so vast -- so many halls, often on two floors per hall -- that it is easy to forget this fourth dimension: time.

I've only been going there for 26 years -- and, to be fair, I've missed two in that time, so I've only actually attended 11 shows. But going to the same show, every two years (with gaps), for about 46% of my life, means that I don't view it quite the same way as those with less of a history. I'm not alone. The late Bert Keppler; Arnold Crane, with whom I renew my acquaintance every two years; they know (or knew) far more about the show than I.

Yes, you can go to photokina, and pick up the brochures and press releases, and think you've 'covered' it in a couple of days. But you'll be wrong. What you really learn at photokina each year is a lot more complex. At least, after you've allowed for the fourth dimension.

My last half-dozen photokinas have all followed the same pattern. The first couple of days, skimming through the halls with my wife Frances Schultz (she recognizes people, I don't), are marvelous. At the end of Day 3, my first day on my own, I'm really depressed. A lot of old friends have retired, or worse still, died. A few just haven't turned up. The last is like when you lose a filling: the afflicted tooth is familiar, but unfamiliar.

Then, on days 4, 5 and 6, things get steadily better. I run into more of the old friends, and make some new ones: sometimes, the sons (rarely the daughters) of the old friends. I find more and more of the products that make the show worth while for me: the Weird Stuff, the super-specialized products (book copiers? canvas stretchers?), the really high-quality products that make you realize that some people do still care about something other than just price.

Part of it, too, is that I stop trying to work as hard -- which, paradoxically, means I work harder. At photokina 2008 Tenba said they'd bought too much beer. No you haven't, I said. Always the consummate journalist, I dropped by at their stand on a regular basis to help them get rid of all that inconveniently heavy liquid. And as I stood there, with a bottle of Fruh Kolsch in my hand, people drifted past. We'd talk, and suddenly, something half-understood would drift into place, or drop in like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. As Tennessee Williams said of his immortal play Camino Real, 'you are not meant to understand it with your mind.'

I discussed a lot of politics: with my old friends Vladimir Samarin (Russian) and Charlie Yiannoulu (Greek Cypriot), and new friends from Croatia and the Ukraine. Sometimes we agreed, and sometimes we didn't, but either way, it clarified my thinking, and I hope it clarified theirs. Every act is a political act, including where we buy our photographic supplies. As a Briton married to an American, I'd rather buy from the UK and the USA, not out of empty chauvinism but because I genuinely believe that a manufacturing base is essential for a country's well-being. That's why I like Tenba bags, many of them still made in New York City, or Billinghams, made in the West Midlands in the UK; or Ilford or Kodak film.

But equally, I'll buy from China if the product is right and the people are honest -- Induro tripods spring to mind -- and I'm more than happy to help emerging economies by buying 'luxury' (but still very reasonable) leatherware from the Ukraine or Efke films from Croatia. Globalization means spreading the wealth around, not exploiting the poorest people of the poorer nations: to quote the Gospel According to St. Luke, Chapter 10, verse 7, 'For the laborer is worthy of his hire."

By the same token, Ms. Nastaran K. Chegini from Paper and Film Industries (aria-co.com) in Tehran was much amused when I said I'd have to take her picture to prove that not all Iranians have horns. And I'm a passionate European, so I'm all in favor of Leica, Alpa, Kaiser, Tetenal and Novoflex. Luxury? Yes, that's fine too. Artisan and Artist make some of the finest camera straps in the world. They're Japanese. photokina teaches you internationalism.

So I'll go back in 2010, and if you can possibly make it, I'd advise you to do the same. And we'll get sore feet, and probably blisters, and we'll vow not to come back again in two years' time. We'll moan about the overpriced refreshments, and the lack of organization, and the fact that it isn't what it was. A young friend from the Balkans summed it up in 2008 by describing his first photokina in 1992, as the last 'real' photokina when there were still the cinema and professional halls, all closed to the general public. And we'll all be there again in 2012, and 2014, and 2016, minus those of us who've died; to convert Arnold Crane's phrase to the plural, "As long as there's breath in our bodies." And it'll never be the same as it used to be.

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MEANINGLESS ADSPEAK

Depressingly many stands had slogans which do not withstand even the most cursory textual analysis. Some of my least favorites came from companies who make superb products, but should fire their copywriters. My reactions are given in brackets.

YOU CAN CANON (You can jolly well Canon, too, chum)

WE SPEAK IMAGE (Canon again -- I think I'd have preferred English, or even Japanese)

TOUCH THE LIGHT, REALIZE THE DREAM (Sorry Sigma...)

SEE THE FEELING (Well, almost, Jenoptik; good try)

COUPLE TIMER (Eh? Sounds like an unsavory cheap hotel, which I'm sure Fuji didn't want to promote).

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EXHIBITORS AND THE PRESS

The press are (or should be) your friends. We want to know about your new products, and by publicizing them, we’ll help you sell them. Tell us what’s new; display a bit of enthusiasm; and we’ll share that enthusiasm. Ignore us, or worse still treat us as a nuisance, and don’t be surprised if you get short shrift.

Have pictures available: preferably TIFFs or JPEGs. Ideally, put them on a CD you can give us, but even if you’ve only got them on a lap-top, we can often download them to a jump drive or something similar. We can’t reproduce decent-quality images from brochures or PDFs, so usually we won’t even try, and video clips are utterly useless for print journalists. At the very least, prepare a sheet for the press with a list of new products and your web address, and have the pictures available (at a sensible size) on the website: at least 900x1200 pixels.

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