The Worldwide Photo Trade Show; Diversity And Technology

Perhaps the hardest thing to convey about photokina is just how wide-ranging it is. Where else are you going to get an opinion, from a factory representative, about how much longer film coating is going to survive in Iran? The answer, incidentally, was “maybe two to three years.” Did you even know there was a coating line in Iran? Then there are Romanian photo-book machines, Turkish albums, Thai camera bags, Swiss cameras, Spanish developing tanks, American underwater housings, Canadian sensor cleaners, Indian minilab supplies, Malaysian photo chemicals, Latvian picture frames, Dutch camera stands, and Polish machines for printing pictures on photo mugs. There’s everything from the smallest, cheapest, most insignificant accessories to huge, expensive kit designed to last a lifetime.

The point is, very little of this is going to end up on the Internet. There’ll be the usual buzz about consumer cameras and lenses, amounting on occasion almost to hysteria: Google Fuji X100 and see how many hits you get. But frames and albums? Yes, you’ll get plenty of hits—but unless you see the stuff for yourself, you’ll never really be able to judge the quality (or otherwise) of what is on offer.

There is no doubt about it. This year was a significantly smaller show than photokina 2008, and there was a lot of padding: free Coca-Cola, plenty of photo exhibitions even in the main halls, beanbag beds to relax on (honestly!), and more. Despite all this, it was still one of the best photokinas we have ever attended—we’ve been going since 1982—and as early as the Wednesday we heard that actual attendance figures were up on 2008.

When we arrived, on setup day, we didn’t think this was going to happen. The mood was frankly flat. There was no “buzz.” But as the show progressed, we realized that this had just been wariness. In hard economic times, everyone was worried about whether they’d see their money back: a big international show like this costs a fortune to attend. By the end of the show, just about everyone was very happy indeed, and some were downright ecstatic. Business was very good, and more than one exhibitor said to us, “We keep asking ourselves, recession? What recession?”

On Sunday, the last day, there was a rainbow over the halls. Somehow, it seemed like an omen. On the first day, we’d talked about this being our last photokina. Now, we’re looking forward to 2012.