Wednesday, December 12, 2012
My fiscal year ends and begins in October. The PhotoPlus Expo held in New York City marks the culmination of all things photo. Another great seminar – thanks to all who attended. Now I hit the ground running across the USA with a large, repeat client.
When traveling to New York City to seek work in the early 1980s, I visited several friends with studios near the Flatiron Building. The area soon became known as the Photo District because there were so many lofts inhabited by the highest density of photographers in the world. I eventually rented an office on W21st Street and when walking around at dusk, the whole street would be intermittently lighted by strobes flashing on virtually every floor of the surrounding buildings. It was one of the oddest sensations and only industry "insiders" had any idea what was causing the phenomenon.
Out of this community arose a thin, cheaply printed newsletter that soon spread outside of the neighborhood to studios all across the country. I thought I was so hip having early editions mailed to me in Boston. Photo District News (PDN) was born accidentally and out of necessity.
I may not have attended the first PhotoPlus Expo in 1982, I think I did, but I have missed very few since. It claims to be the largest photography convention in North America. Most of my colleagues paced the crowded floor viewing, fondling and testing all sorts of cameras, film, enlargers, papers, and chemistry. Green envy overwhelmed empty pocketbooks. This is the ultimate "candy store" for professional photographers. Everyone had to own the latest item. The manufacturers and the end-users came together, nose-to-nose, to buy, sell, and kibitz.
One year while preparing to shoot the Olympics, I spied a huge 600mm f/4 lens behind a glass counter at a booth. I inquired as to how much a thing like that costs. The salesman laughed in my face. He sputtered, "If they were available, it would cost you a Hyundai. But they are back ordered." To save face I gave him my business card. He looked at my title and noticed that I was a national board member of the ASMP. I had never exploited my position, but I got a phone call a couple of weeks later. The telephoto had suddenly become available. With it I have shot many Olympic Games (after cobbling together the exorbitant downpayment).
Otherwise not interested in equipment, I strolled around the hall looking at the plastic identification cards on everyone's chest. Each time I recognized a name, I nervously introduced myself. These were my heroes. These were the bylines I read in every magazine on the newsstands. My fellow conventioneers were a veritable Who's Who of photography: Jay Maisel, Bill Eppridge, Gregory Heisler, Matthew Jordan Smith, Rick Sammon, Gerd Ludwig, Syl Arena, Chris Rainier, Chase Jarvis, and many others. (If a terrorist were to explode a bomb, the photography world would never recover.) These brief encounters added up over the years. As a consequence of all that schmoozing, I can no longer move ten feet without running into some "old friend" that I only see on that same spot on the floor of PPE.
My most embarrassing moment happened when I took a seminar just to meet Francesco Scavullo. RIP. I had loved his pictures for years. He was doing a demonstration and the room was packed. His assistants were scurrying around and the models were primping. Scavullo wore tight black pants and a flamboyant white silk blouse that flowed with his every movement. All of a sudden something went wrong. The strobes failed and everything stopped. Without skipping a beat, the famous fashion photographer asked the audience for questions to waste time as the problem was being fixed. I was all the way in the back of the room and my hand went up. He called on me and I asked if he would autograph my book. The place was stunned. Everybody was aghast that I had such chutzpah to ask this inappropriate question. I knew that, but did it anyway. I passed the coffee-table book, like in a crowd surfing mosh pit, to the front. He signed and everyone passed the book back. I knew I would never penetrate the hangers-on and get close to him after the session. I treasure the book to this day.
Dates have changed, largely to avoid competing directly with the New York Marathon or Halloween. However, it happens. And when combined with all the usual tourists, hotel rooms are scarce. But getting on the elevator with skimpy-attired runners and bizarre costumes make the New York State of Mind more exciting. A few years ago on Halloween, I was invited to an industry party with high ranking guests. Everyone came dressed in costumes. I went dressed as a photographer. After the party, they went to Greenwich Village to see the boisterous parade and checked another thing off the 100 Things to Do Before You Die list.
Over the years we have seen many things change. We survived the transition from film to digital. We witnessed Kodak and Polaroid disappear, and Epson and Adobe emerge. 47th Street Camera morphed into B&H. Of course the names changed just like the laws. What was once Friday, Saturday, Sunday is now Wednesday through Saturday. Because Orthodox Jews represent such a large proponent of the industry, we all observe Sabbath along with them. The whole phenomenon became more democratic...inclusive. And the wedding/event photographers and amateurs changed the complexion even more.
Outside the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the real world may not know what is happening inside the glass monstrosity, but their "mirror to the world" is being renegotiated and rearranged. The best photographers, agencies, manufacturers, and publishers are reformatting and recomposing every photograph that sees the light of day.
However, as much business as is being done in the Javits, even more goes on behind the scenes -dinners and parties all over the West Side. The Bash that PDN throws every year gives strangers a chance to let their hair down and hobnob with others just like themselves. On a few memorable years, the dance floor throbbed as couples sweated and bounced in time to the music, shoulder to shoulder with other strangers. The mashups have been great for everyone.
During Game 6 of the World Series in 1986, they brought television sets in to a party for everyone to watch because the New York Mets were playing. In a vivid flashback, I remember walking in and everyone razing me. My Boston Red Sox were one out from winning and people blamed me. (No one was aware I also hated the Red Sox.) All of a sudden Bill Buckner committed his career ending error and the hometown team went on to win. In an hour I went from arch enemy to the butt of eternal jokes, for years after.
Somehow along the way I have had the good fortune of standing at the front of the room, teaching several different seminars. I have sat on panels and lectured to large, captivated audiences. Some of my subjects have included travel photography, long term documentary projects, annual reports, publishing books, and most recently, speedlights. It is a way of staying relevant in the ever changing photography landscape.
Recently a few people have stopped me on my way around the convention and requested an autograph. I guess I have been coming here too long.