24 October, 2008

Review Photo Plus New York

Okay, I'm leaving New York, so what a perfect time to cap off the past four days with a review of sorts.

WARNING: I'm not a reporter, and I'm not really interested in much of what happens at a show like Photo Plus. My main camera is 30-years-old and cost $65, so cutting edge I'm not. And, when I go to a show like this I can't help but laugh at things, which means I'm really laughing at myself, kinda.

But first, kudos to Jet Blue and their new terminal in NYC. It just opened two days ago, and I'm sitting here in a hot spot writing this. There is a sushi bar, good style and design, other good foods, and at some point will have their security system worked out. Today was a little touch and go. Most airports are depression centers, with no power outlets, that force you to talk to your inner child as he or she whimpers for greener pastures. But not this one, it works I think. I probably don't need the surf shop, but hey, who am I do keep someone from buying a 10'6 thruster pintail on the way to Detroit?

But also, kudos to the guy in the "Buck Hunter" t-shirt I saw earlier. It was one of those cheap black t-shirts you get at a truck stop. Looks like a cheap, peel on sticker of a "monster buck" with a bullseye over it. I love anyone who flaunts their lust for shooting things. I grew up hunting and fishing, so don't think I'm opposed, and I eat meat, but I've never had the urge to say, "Hey, check me out, I'm thirsty for blood!"

Oh, and as long as we are on kudos, here to the candy "Sugar Babies." In an age of health and fitness, this candy pioneer chooses to say, "Hey, you want a bag full of sugar?" "Right here baby!" I'm gorging to the point of sickness as I write this.
"Stewardess.....you have any more of those motion sickness bags?" "Line em up, I'll knock em down."

Okay, on to the real meat of this discussion. Photo Plus Expo. I feel like a guy on shore leave in some distant land. My throat hurts, my eyes are red, my head hurts, I'm slightly sweaty and I can't remember much of what happened to me in the past few days. I lectured, I saw many people and new photo-trinkets, but my review is one of cautionary feeling. Caustic perhaps.

Photo Plus could be called Photo Minus, just due to the shrinkage normally associated with cold water, which has fallen over the photo-world like a brain cloud. The show is smaller, seemingly much smaller than past years, and there seemed to be a lack of actual photography. Even last year I remember a large show by Albert Watson, but this year, I don't remember seeing even a single show. Technology is what fuels the public's appetite, and their lust for new gadgetry is running at epidemic levels. Version 2.0, or 3.0, forget it, you better have 7.0 ready to go cause they want it and they think they need it.

From my observations, the gadget of choice for this show, by far, was the new Canon 5d Mark II, which had a line forming like a giant serpent, snaking it way through the maze of the Canon booth. The revelers were mad with tech-lust as they stood in line to get a peep at this new beauty. From what I hear on the street, pre-orders are beyond expectations, and rumor has it foreign governments are mobilizing troops to contain rabid shoppers. Look for gas and rubber bullets at a camera shop near you.
Get on the list now!!! I mean stop reading this and get out there!
The camera looks to be, for the price point, head and shoulders above anything else, but I don't find this surprising as Canon has owned the pro-digital market for over a decade. And I mean owned, like Tony Montana in Scarface kinda owned. Like like Al Capone. Like it wasn't even close. Is that clear enough?

I also thought that Sony had made some nice progress in their new style and positioning. I think they have a nice new camera and friendly sales and tech force. I dig Sony. And, they make really cool Mini-disc players/recorders, one of the coolest devices ever made.

Leica too, and I am so pulling for this legendary operation. I still think the best camera ever, and most historical in importance is the Leica M. Their new camera is a stretch, but has also put all other medium format companies on notice, which you can see by the price drops in recent days. The battle royal is on. Get a front row seat and feel the sweat as it lands on your lapels. I tried to look at this new camera, but the rep and his demo model were surrounded by aging "Leica Devoted Followers," which means a bunch of older guys who probably spend every waking moment online in debate over one Leica thing or another. If you allow them, they will talk for DAYS about anything Leica, although I'm not sure how many of them actually USE their cameras. They have wild ideas about what Leica should do, and are not shy about cornering Leica people like a coyote cornering Bambi. "You should put a wind lever on the new body," or "you should make a camera about of Leggos." You never know what this crowd will deliver, besides knowing with absolute certainty they will be clogging the Leica booth at Photo Plus. So, I never got my hands on the new camera. There is much buzz about this baby, but I still think what the masses are looking for is a full-frame M. But what do I know?

On a side note. I love the wedding companies. They always bring a carnival/car sales feel to a show like this, and believe what you want about that, I find it fascinating.I've been involved in the wedding world for some time now, but don't feel as if I've ever really been a part of it. And I'm not alone. I walked the show with another photographer, specifically looking for these folks and basking in their approach, and success. Power on wedding snappers. And remember, any wedding photo can be made exponentially better by adding a unicorn.

On another side note: Kudos to the vendors that still use soft-core models to sell their products. Models in seductive poses are a sure thing, I don't care what you are selling, and as you walk the show floor this is painfully evident. Suddenly you will fall up on a packed group of men, ALL MEN, clustered together, jockeying for position as a young model flaunts her best poses. I haven't seen crowds of men like this since the old days of seedy Times Square, before Mayor G cleaned up the city. What is lost in the pure joy of booth-soft-core is the near complete boredom of the model. What is odd is that many of the photographers working with these models don't look like people who ever work with models and it shows in their presentations. Typically, these shoots result in four men staring at a laptop screen and positioning too many lights as the model nearly collapses from boredom, lack of attention, and the realization that their booking agent betrayed them. When people shoot tethered, there seems to be NO relationship with the model, none, and it shows in the work. Just to help out, I will sometimes lurk at the back of the pack, waving my arms to get her attention, then mime to her, "I understand," "I'm with you." Solidarity and complaints are the only things that will get us through this.

Back to our show, currently in progress.

Blurb was also on fire, the print on demand publisher, one of many these days, but the one that has photography at the core. I consult for them, or advise, or lecture or something along those lines, so you can take this part of this report with a grain of salt if you choose to do so, but I actually mean this. Blurb sponsored the final chapter of their Photography Book Now Symposium, which ended with a full-day presentation regarding book publishing. Darius Himes from Radius Books was the MC, and what followed was 4.5 hours of book soup baby. Designers, publishers, and photographers(me included) took the stage and spoke about the life of the book as object, the book as art and the book as perhaps the future of many of us. There are a few really nice reviews out there. If I wasn't such a lazy person I would link them in. The Jackanory Blog has one, and everyone seems to know this site.

Blurb is owned and operated by a photographer and it shows. They are obsessed with photographers and the needs of those equally obsessed with image making. They didn't have to do ANY of this, the contest, the panel, the symposium, but they did, and I'm sure it was NOT cheap. They are like parachute pants and white high-tops, so cool you just have to have them. Check them out. Oh, and they annouced two new things, a new size, 5x8 for printed books, as in novels and such, and also premium paper for their photo/art books. I have two books printed on this new paper and it looks grand.

The nightly parties were also scaled back as the world ponders the idea of clubbing each other for food. Photo Plus creates a party frenzy of who, what, where and when. There are multiple parties running at all times, and the name and fame obsessed photo-groupie will have a hard time keeping up. The night normally goes like this, "I'm going to the PDN party, then Sony, then Kodak, then Nikon, then the ICP opening, then eating dinner at 3am in SoHo, then having coffee at Aperture and taking a power nap on the street outside of a gallery in mid-town." It's crazy. Nuts. And, you can never win. Photo Plus creates the high-school like ultra-cool, dork-uncool rivalry as well, where folks deemed as cool break off into tiny pods that disperse from back-alley exits in an effort to "scrape off" those deemed "not as cool." It's a site to behold, I highly recommend it. I'm normally in the "not as cool" category, so I've seen this technique used many times, and now have a deep respect for the strategy involved. It's just one of those ugly truths we all know exists but are mortified to write about...UNTIL NOW!!!

On a sad note, my camera of the future was NOT introduced by anyone. My full-frame digital rangefinder with REAL optical viewfinder, fixed lenses and RAW capability was, once again, passed over. Someone, probably a small brand, will one day make this thing, and the entire photo-world will buy one, or two, and the mega-companies will realize what they missed. I'm going to hold my breath until someone makes this....okay, I'm starting now....................okay, I give up.


Photo Plus is well worth the effort, but not because of the show. It's worth going to the city, getting a little photo-dirt on you and rubbing elbows with many other photographers, at least until they try to scrape you off. In the words of the Uber-New Yorker, Gordan Gecco, "You want a friend, buy a dog."

Photo Plus is a voyage through what is left of our once mighty profession, and if you love sorting through junk at yard sales, then this show is for you. At the basis of all this are the people, and regardless of condition, photography holds within it, a core group of fantastic, creative, driven people, and in many cases they are in the city during this time.

I think the only thing that will save this business is the redirection of our focus back to the images, and their value, and not the hyper-temporary equipment used to make these images. The digital revolution was based on consumerism, and we see with world markets, that is only going to get us so far. What remains, even amid the ruins, are the images.

Just go.

1 comment:

Scott Slattery said...

I see that I am going to have to come and beat the melancholy out of you. I like the soft core - if only for the visual effects on the 50 year olds shooting on continuous high. You're right about the wedding crew - but Scott and I took some pointers from Jim Garner about story telling with images that we just had not put together in our own heads as yet. The best thing about our days in NYC were the time we took to go out and shoot - I'll put some up on the blog tomorrow and Facebook of course! As always it was great to see you and I'll track you down in Santa Fe in March!