Goodbye and Good Riddance: Why I Won’t Miss Photokina

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Many of you have seen the news that Photokina is no longer going to happen for the time being. I’ll admit that I always enjoyed my time at Photokina. As an accredited member of the press, I’m not going to miss the abysmal wifi (despite the staff’s incredibly kind and helpful efforts). Nor will I miss the insanity of the show and running from one booth to another through crowds of people walking no better than toddlers teetering about. Large shows are incredibly impractical. For business, they’re nice to get everyone in one spot for face-to-face meetings. But we don’t need those anymore. In fact, we haven’t needed them for a long time. And to me, Photokina’s possible death means we can actually instead spend resources on the photo industry’s sustainability.

The Phoblographer has changed a lot in the past year. I look back many times at where we were a year ago and then fast-forwarded to today. We’ve needed to change and adapt. Personally speaking, this feels like the years 2008 and 2009 all over again. We’re in a global recession. Back then, I remember sitting in my cubicle at PCMag and the desk at Magnum Photos. I witnessed hundreds of people get laid off and come out of a room with their faces buried in their hands, sobbing. It was sad, but in retrospect, every single moment was worth it. The tech industry survived and grew. Sure, magazines and print died or became a niche luxury product, but efforts were refocused, and sites grew.

Similarly, in photography, digital continued to grow. We went from film to digital, to mirrorless, and then mobile. And Photokina to me represents something that we needed to shed a long time ago. We don’t need trade shows anymore. We don’t need journalists and influencers who are wined and dined. We need transparency and sustainability. The traditional photo industry is in quicksand, and we are all struggling to grasp rope and pull ourselves safely out.

My buddy Frederick at TWIP recently spoke to Matthew Jordan Smith. If you don’t know who either of these fine gentlemen are please Google them. Frederick is a US Veteran, and Matthew has done work that always finds a way to make my jaw drop. Matthew recently remarked that Japan sees photography as just a part of life. They no longer see it as art that you hang on the wall. But the West thinks very differently. And these thought differences change things. The photo industry indeed is very fractured.

If you’ve been reading this site for a long time, you’ll know that I think we all need to evolve. We need to look at the watch industry—somehow, all those manufacturers survived and stayed alive. New ones even popped up. While the smartphone devastated their industry a long time ago, they recovered. Traditional cameras haven’t taken this seriously in a long time. They don’t find deeper integrations with smartphones. They don’t become objects people genuinely want. A watch geek is far different from a photo geek, but they share a passion for their products. The big difference is that the photo industry still thinks they’re necessary for every single person to have their product, while the mobile phone changed that a long time ago.

Photokina cited this as one of the reasons why the show is done for the moment. They think the photo industry is dead. In some ways, they set themselves up for it. For example, most companies rely on Sony for sensors. Years ago, they used to work with Kodak, Samsung, Panasonic, and others. It’s long been time for companies to diversify. We need the CCD sensor back. It can live alongside CMOS. We also need higher durability. And further, we need to either put our money where our mouth is with technology, or embrace our products’ flaws for what they are. In the next decade, there’s no way that every camera manufacturer will outdo Apple and Google in imaging technology and usefulness. So they need to find ways to become a million times better or become products of lust.

And as for Photokina, it needed to find a way to diversify a long time ago, too. 

I’ll miss wandering the streets of Cologne. I’ll miss the wonderful people. And I’ll surely miss Germany’s odd lack of understanding that there are beds larger than twin size in a hotel.

Personally, though, I’ve seen a ton of publishers and companies around us not diversify. And I’m excited about the future and to embrace what the next 10 years will bring for the photo industry.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.