The photo trade show desperately needs to be reborn into something else, and this is the time for it to happen.
If you’re reading this, you’re wondering why there’s no interest in a photo trade show from new photographers. And you’re probably missing the times where the industry got together and hung out. Those times, at least for the moment, are gone. And the photo trade show, in general, has changed a bit over the years. But the progress has been plodding. In truth, it feels like you could age an award-winning whiskey much faster. The photo trade show, in general, tries to be incredibly avant-garde, but it instead ends up being incestuous and out of touch. The global lockdown was and still is the perfect time for the photo trade show to evolve. I’d even like to argue that the show doesn’t need to evolve; it needs to die and be reborn brand new.
I should probably list all the things that I won’t miss about the world’s photo trade show events. Mind you, I’m a 13-year veteran who got his start at Magnum and has been around the industry. I won’t miss:
- The major focus on just the idea of traditional photography
- The lack of understanding that imaging and photography are much more than an artistic niche
- The obnoxiously loud displays and performances from a camera company’s ambassadors
- The major lack of meeting new vendors and networking with new photographers
- The serious lack of integration and diversity. I remember when some shows were mostly women. But the photo industry doesn’t always feel like a safe place for women or minorities.
- The half-hearted portfolio review attempts
These are just a few things I won’t miss. And they’ve been the same everywhere: WPPI, Photo Plus Expo, Photokina, etc. They all just felt like iterations of the same show in one way or another.
On top of all, this is a major lack of representation of various communities. You may wonder why that’s so important. And if you do, I invite you to explore the large database of interviews we’ve done over the years. Different people create in different ways. Part of that is shaped by our experiences and the way our brains think. The entire rainbow and spectrum of people do not experience the world the same. To that end, they create photos using a variety of processes.
I think that every photo show hasn’t tried to find a way to globalize its presence. That’s important. While an organization may only cater to Americans, the country’s faces are incredibly diverse.
New photo companies have also popped up over the years. But to attract them, a new audience first needs to be attracted. The pandemic saw the creation of tons of new photographers. People spent exorbitant amounts of money on new cameras and lenses. They all had time. With that said, the folks in charge need to change and give the reins to new folks.
I saw this problem not only with trade shows but also with trade organizations across the board. So I’ll end this post with what I’d like to see from a photo trade show that’s evolved.
- Diversity in the staff
- Diversity in the types of photographers who make presentations
- Diversity in the companies. Loads of new lens, lighting, retail, etc., have popped up in the past 10 years.
- To attract new companies, you need to make the cost sustainable. Don’t try to hose a company for money that will sink their entire budget. If a company feels like they got their money’s worth, then they’ll keep coming back and build your show for you.
- Elevate the voices of more women and minority leaders in the photo community.
- The realization that photography has evolved. The print is important, and we need to remember what our past is. Many new photographers don’t look at the greats from the past; they look at current photography stars as the ones to follow.
- A balance of the past, the present, and the future.
- Understanding the related technologies to photography and making the shows more about imaging.
- Integration of AI into the photo trade show in some way. It’s a big part of it all.
- Social networks, social news platforms, stock companies, and social communities need to be involved somehow.
- The photo trade show needs to attract the luxury crowd as well. Traditional photography is both a luxury hobby and a critical source of income. Both need to be embraced.
These are just a few things that need to happen.