Magazine Article


A Different photokina

ruin in a WWII photo
A passerby with cellphone points at a ruin in a WWII photo, hanging in the new Koelnmesse.The message of the iconic images may be changing with the generations.
Don Sutherland

Köln Messe
The Köln Messe where photokina was born is no more, but its shell will remain as a reminder. What else of photokina will join the relics of Cologne?
Don Sutherland

old Köln Messe
The walls of the old Köln Messe form a composite with the cathedral steeples, more than a half-mile away. In a sense, they’re all equally ancient.
Don Sutherland

Panasonic DSLR
Like Sony, Panasonic treated their DSLR like "new," despite its announcement last February. Projecting a 10% market share within a few years, Panasonic’s message seemed to echo Sony’s: Forget the technicalities—we’re here, and we mean it.
Don Sutherland

Sony Alpha DSLR
At their heavily-attended press conference, Sony treated their Alpha DSLR almost like a new introduction, despite its half-year of existence. What were they trying to tell us?
Don Sutherland

We’d probably feel this way nowhere else. It’s hard to imagine nostalgia for the Las Vegas Convention Center. But then, Cologne did not spring from the forehead of Bugsy Siegel. Amid Kolsch history, Kolsch transfiguration, changes in things seem more profound. If your ghost was in the old Köln Messe, maybe now it’s walking that old Roman highway, alongside the other spirits in the flow of time.

But more than just symbols have changed in the Koelnmesse. The realities of the photo game have changed too, and not even the facades are intact.

In 1986, the most prophetic visionary, with 20/20 foresight, could not have envisioned the photographic cosmos we now spend our time in. It wasn’t until ten years later that the rough outline began being traced. It remained mostly theoretical for the next five years. The photography world we now take for granted, with high resolution and infinite distribution, with challenges introduced by new forms of marketing and distribution channels, is all a new product of the 21st-century.

In this context, is a bi-annual tradeshow still relevant? In Germany at that? In the early 1950s, when the first photokina was held, the recovering Germany was looking to cameras for postwar revival. But in the years since, the center of photography has moved considerably east. What, besides decades of momentum, keeps photokina an international event?

In 2006, Apple was at the show, which is good—they weren’t quite ready in 1986—though they were pushing software this year, not particularly computers. Isn’t that odd? Don’t photographers need computers?

Panasonic, also not ready for a photo show in ‘86, and also a maker of a great line of computers, spoke mostly of cameras. They declared their intention to reach 10% market share within a few years.

Polaroid was gone, Agfa was gone, Konica was gone, Minolta was gone.

Driven by the pace of consumer electronics, four generations of cameras are born between each biannual photokina. Should the show go annual? Should it bring-in computers and disk drives and monitors among the exhibits, and flesh-out its claim of “The World of Imaging?”

Nearly all camera manufacturers used to hold product intros for the big splash of photokina. In the year of the internet 2006, only two on the high-end did: Sigma with their 14-megapixel SD-14, and Leica, the German camera company, with their 10-megapixel M8. Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax showed their fall lines weeks or months before.

Digital photography has progressed enormously since 1996, but never as efficiently, nor as profitably, as it might have. The division between the “electronics” industry and the “photography” industry was declared at the outset. When Apple announced its first digicam, the QuickTake 100—that was in 1994—the product manager told us that photo retailers were too poorly educated to sell computer peripherals. What else is a digital camera?

It wasn’t long, though, before Apple dropped the QuickTake. Is the big box store educated enough to explain the new digital lenses, their f/stops and focal-lengths and how to prevent fuzzy pictures?

A sense of history pervades Cologne, but not for single events. It’s the Romans, and the middle-ages, and the war, each separate and unrelated to the others, that meld into place in the panorama. Before each could arise, its predecessor had to fall. That’s what it takes to make history. And at photokina, history remains in the making.