Thursday, 23 September 2010


Whenever you go on a trip you have to start somewhere: my trip to Germany started in Milton Keynes. Photokina is a massive trade fair for the photographic industry that happens every 2 years in Köln (Cologne). It seems like the entire industry clambers aboard a plane, a train, or an automobile and descends on the city like a gang of unruly school children. Unlike the school children these individuals don't have their teachers and most of them have expense accounts!

If a photographic company has something to launch they will invariably time it with Photokina in mind, either just before so everyone comes to look or during when all the press are there. It is a BIG DEAL! I have been going for the last 14 or 16 years, every other year and I am over the glamour of the event, it's work. This time it was some long overdue meetings (but I'm not going to talk about that because it would be boring).

I have loads of friends in the photographic industry and this for me was an opportunity to meet them, to catch up with some gossip, to distribute some gossip and to see who has changed camps. So even though the following blog might suggest that I hate every minute I didn't at all, it was tiring but I had a great time.

I was there for a couple of days. One of the mornings I took this picture of the foyer of the huge Kölnmesse (exhibition hall), the view was the same in every direction, it took nearly an hour for the queue to get through the turnstiles! Just inside there were loads of photographers shooting the throng forcing there way in. I resisted... Photokina is not about photography though: it is about equipment and it is about software and it is about materials. There are relatively few photographs on display and many of those that did make it are not all that good. Photokina is about money and commerce rather than photography. Don't get me wrong, it is the commerce that makes Photokina possible, the exhibitors would not put on an altruistic display of beautiful photographs because they couldn't afford to. What I'd like to see though is a proportion of them making some acknowledgement of the photography that their equipment is used for.

The commercial world is driven by innovation, it is the new stuff that sells, bigger, faster, brighter, smaller... this cycle means that the R&D departments are working all the time to think of what they can do to innovate their companies' products. In my view they are often doing a great job, innovation is fantastic - but... Every time they come up with a new idea they should stop for a while and assess whether it is actually worthwhile: does it do something that is aesthetically pleasing or technically useful. Or have they just created a gimmick. A case in point is 3D. As an entertainment medium I do see the point, I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in 3d and it was enchanting. but what happens when you squeeze it into a consumer video camera is that the whole world comes out looking like bad CGI. There were even pieces of software that claimed to make your 2D videos into 3D. I chose 3D because it is representative of the appalling lengths that some manufacturers will go to to 'add value' to their products at the expense of quality.

I have very unfairly illustrated this last paragraph with a picture of a rig designed to take multiple stills to be combined to create a static subject that can be digitally rotated, you see it in the telly quite a bit! The rig was very impressive and I think could shoot video too!

Most of Photokina is made up of small booths selling more or less obscure products from around the world. I was tickled by this since it seems to suggest that you can take Polaroid 600 pictures underwater! I think they should sack their creative man!

My journey started on Milton Keynes station and the return journey started on Köln Hauptbhanhof, the central station which is immediately adjacent to the cathedral which you can see through the roof. Köln station is a little like St Pancras, a beautiful arch and the new bit they have added over the last decade is wonderfully in keeping both with the surrounding buildings and with the rest of the station.

Photographically I have an admission. All these pictures were taken with my phone. I took a 'real camera, my little Olympus XA but I have not yet processed the film - I hope there may be another blog in there too. But I am not really embarrassed by using a phone, photography isn't about equipment, it is about photographs. Or did I already hint at that...

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