The bell rings for industry unity

September 7, 2021

Just a few years ago, the photographic industry was served by a range of support associations covering commercial distributors, retailers, prolabs, professional photographers and avid hobbyists.

Just six years ago, the industry was united enough to host The Digital Show, a consumer / professional exhibition in Melbourne that incorporated the AIPP Australian Photographer of the Year awards and attracted thousands of amateur photographers. and passionate professionals.

They say the past is another country, but putting together this broad overview of where we came from, it’s surprising how different a country is, and over a relatively short period of time. As an industry – professional photographers, specialty retailers, prolabs and distributors – where we are today is barely recognizable from where we were just 10 years ago. Just six years ago, the industry hosted a multi-faceted event at the Melbourne Exhibition Center that drew around 17,000 people for three days – most paying an entrance fee – and included annual prizes. of the APPA. Those days are over. They were gone long before Covid put its pointy foot across the landscape.

One by one, most industry associations withdrew, leaving only the venerable photography club movement and its national umbrella, the Australian Photographic Society, and the association of professional photographers, the Australian Institute of Photography, still standing.

The first victim “in the modern era” was PMA, the Photo Marketing Association (Australia) which was the Australian branch of PMA International, based in the United States, which itself had a history dating back to the 1920s.

This American affiliation was a strength, then finally a weakness. The resources of the US “parent company”, such as training programs for retailers and photo printing staff and the means to establish a well-staffed Australian office, have been critical to PMA’s success. Membership fees have been kept fairly low. (But perhaps it was the inspired choice of the great Les Brener as founding director that allowed PMA in Australia to thrive initially.)

However, when the inflated PMAI – which had grown on revenues from the giant PMA Las Vegas trade shows – encountered financial problems in the United States in 2024/2015, it cleaned up the bank accounts of the Australian branch, canceled the lease of the office and wished us all the best in the future.

As a result, specialist dealers, framers (PPFA), color laboratories (APCL) and school photographers (FESP) – groups that were affiliated and operated through the PMA executive office in Australia – were left out.

Of these groups, the APCL is now inactive, the PSPA has been incorporated into the AIPP and the PPFA continues to function as a chapter of PPFA International.

(There was also a New Zealand branch of PMA that was more financially independent. The Americans were unable to close its accounts and take its money, which allowed New Zealand industry to form a other retailer association.)

PMA has worked for decades in close partnership with the retail group PICA (Photo Imaging Council of Australia) – later renamed IDEA – to organize the annual trade show and retailers conference, with PICA managing the show and PMA the seminars and workshops. (In 2007, PMA took over the exhibitions from PICA / IDEA for a few years.) Venues have alternated between the main exhibition halls in Sydney and Melbourne and occasionally Brisbane. Conference attendees gathered at 300 or 400 delegates, which is not surprising given that the Kodak Express minilab chain alone had over 700 outlets at its peak in the late 1980s. and 90.

If we ‘follow the money’ – or in this case we don’t – it would appear that the demise of the international and Australian PMA is due to declining membership and reliance on a big event every year – the annual exhibition / conferences. These were expensive to manage – renting most of the Sydney Exhibition Center conference rooms for four days doesn’t come cheap. (The plethora of PMA executives who came from headquarters in the US for the week either!) Without a full complement of delegates, it wasn’t hard to waste a hundred thousand dollars rather than increase income. At the last show, in 2015, PMA did not participate.

Professional photographers have played a vital role in these annual gatherings as passionate and highly regarded attendees of the exhibition and through the annual Australian Photographer of the Year Award Judgment, topped off with a gala dinner.

The biggest photographic companies vied for the biggest and flashiest booth. At one point, a spending limit was introduced because the wealthiest corporations – the Kodaks and the Cannons – were spending insane amounts of money on stand space and design. Dominant brands also sponsored high profile (i.e. expensive) speakers for the convention.

The salons themselves, in their later 21st century versions, were open to the public and variously called The Digital playground (not to be confused with the adult site) then The digital spectacle. They generated hundreds of thousands of dollars a year which was used to run the IDEA office, which notably provided a weekly newsletter; lobby the government on important issues like parallel marketing and the GST; for many years he edited a weekly photo advice column published in suburban and regional newspapers; and an ongoing marketing campaign (“Print it or lose it”) to encourage consumers to have their photos printed. (Oh, and organize a big annual national show.)

IDEA’s board of directors included key industry executives, and considerable prestige was invested in the role of chairman. Somewhere along the line, perhaps as the annual trade / consumer shows became less appealing to members, IDEA became less relevant and membership, which included most of the local distributors, large and small, decreased. When Canon gave up, the writing was on the wall.

Any hat, no cattle

When Paul Curtis, IDEA’s poorly praised engine, retired in 2012, his replacement proved what you might call “a brave choice.” As we wrote at the time: “His selection and appointment was strongly endorsed by IDEA President Dave Marshall (then Managing Director of Fujifilm) as part of an initiative to expand the association of ‘an association focused on the promotion of photography, digital entertainment and “convergence”. ”. It also involved a name change from “Photo Imaging Council of Australia” to “Imaging and Digital Entertainment Association”. It was as if the leaders of the photographic industry had lost faith in photography.

Inspirational choice, Dave!

IDEA (i.e. Dave Marshall) had decided that what the industry really needed was a singing and dancing consumer electronics show with a little emphasis on imagery. The young and stylish new CEO was thought to be the person to deliver it. She resigned in 2013, about eight months after taking office and five months after the 2013 Digital Show, and returned to the United States, leaving the previously determined association in disarray from which she never quite recovered.

It was probably the backbone of IDEA. There has never been another permanent executive director appointed. The shows were put on a semi-annual basis. Once. The big camera brands gave up and the CE / IT companies refused to play. The last show was in 2015, after IDEA President James Murray canceled the 2017 event without “any plans for future events like this.” That was it, really. The IDEA newsletter ‘Grapevine’ continued in a way until 2019. There was still money in IDEA’s bank account, but the members were only a handful and no one, especially the board of directors under the prolonged and edgy presidency of James. Murray, seemed particularly interested in any form of revival.

In a bold move, we said at the time that they didn’t seem to pass the ‘publicity test’ (and still don’t), the four or five members of IDEA’s board divided up the positions. $ 300,000 remaining in the IDEA kit among the remaining four or five members. Their own businesses. It is now effectively closed.

The other important group that has fallen by the wayside is the ACMP, established in 1991 as an independent group of commercial photographers from AIPP. With around 250 members, it merged with AIPP in 2015. For a while, the AIPP website became the AIPP + ACMP until its full absorption in 2017, the former members of the ACMP joining the AIPP Commercial Council.

The other major loss was the Australian Center for Photography In Sydney. In 2014, he sold the large building that housed him in Oxford Street, Paddington, for a paltry sum ($ 5 million). In 2016, the CPA moved, the site was expanded, and the developers made several million dollars. For some reason that has not yet been explained, it has lost both state and federal funding as of 2021. It is highly unusual for government funders to pull the rug out from under it. foot of an institution that had been operating for 45 years. Most of the funds from the sale of the building are gone. CEO Pierre Arpin attributed his demise to the advent of the smartphone: “The world has changed and the advent of the smartphone and the iPhone makes everyone a photographer,” he said, adding that “… maybe photography has become so prevalent that it has lost its special cachet. ‘ Or maybe the CPA, once the focal point of photography in Sydney, has simply lost its mojo. Maybe if management put more effort into these vital requests for government grants, its doors would still be. open.

And now there is only one group dedicated to all aspects of the photography business in Australia, the AIPP. The disappearance of all these other groups was not inevitable. Most other industrial sectors still have a voice, while the photo industry is silent. There were heroes and villains and people whose roles – both volunteer and salaried – dictated that they should have given a damn more. Competence and passion count. The ability to convey a vision that engages members. A good business plan.

But is all of the above a cause or an effect? At the end of the day, unless enough of us actually see some value in it and want the kind of unity and relevance that well-supported representative groups provide, we simply won’t have them. not.

There is another sort of Australian “institution” of the photographic industry that still exists – and that is Interior imagery. We have provided an industry chronicle for almost 20 years now and, with less connection to the photographic industry than in the past, and in the absence of any other source of history or archives, its memory business.

We have recently been criticized for the scrutiny we have applied to the finances and constitution of the AIPP. But we’ve seen this kind of soap opera before. It would be great if this one had a happy ending.
-Keith Shipton

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About Joaquin Robertson

Joaquin Robertson

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