As published in "Through The Looking Glass", which was "an irregular series of irreverent looks at photography today and as we'll know it one day." Published October 1996. Copyright 1996 Randy Taylor.

Visions Of Photokina

Those Germans. What a sense of humor. The big joke at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on September 19th was about the two "American" photographers who came with their Nikons to cover the public stock offering of Leica. Rumor has it the stock offering was necessary to pay for the statue of the new Leica R8, erected at Photokina, that huge tradeshow in Köln, Germany where the faithful gather every two years to give praise to the commerce of photography. This year's congregation made the pilgrimage from the Colon Cathedral to the 14 hallowed halls where worshipers passed before the statue of the Leica R8.

Upon our arrival, we quickly transcended to the highest nirvana of the great halls which are divided into amateur and professional realms. Winding through a labyrinth of gadgets, we walked by more than enough picture frames and photo albums to archive every German born since Gutenberg. Entering the first professional hall, we paused for a moment to bask in the heavenly glow of digital displays before moving on to see what was fresh.

Many newborns were lined up awaiting the adulation of curious strangers. Phillips presented it's DVD disk, a CD-ROM with massive storage capacity (about 6 gigabytes) which is expected to replace VCR tapes in five years and the human brain in ten.

Nikon gave birth to the F5, the first of their cameras that seems to focus as fast as a Canon. Hordes of eager followers lined up to lay their hands on the noble creation which the seers say will put Nikon back on everyone's Christmas list.

Fuji had a litter of tiny digital cameras that seemed more like preemies than full-grown cameras. Each came with a preinstalled "roll" of digital film that needs to be returned in the camera to a lab for "processing" and replacement. While Fuji focused on small, everything at Kodak was enlarged, taking up an entire hall for it's products. Other American manufacturers, not to be outdone by their German, French, and Japanese competitors, presented their best-known industry icons ... the Baywatch Barbie auto camera series.

Crowds gathered around Adobe to hear chapter and verse from the Bible of Imaging. Version 4.0, which will be available to the masses by December. It was demonstrated to those hungry for knowledge. Key to it's core were new scripting/macro abilities and advancement of methods to freely control every aspect of each image in all layers and at all times throughout the process.

Unlike American trade shows, almost nothing is free at Photokina, except for the free focus competition where viewing stands of camera set-ups await their users. The "Las Vegas Geldma$hine" was the only free giveaway seen. In a cross between a game show and a vacuum cleaner, contestants entered the money machine booth to snatch coupons out of the air in hopes of winning prizes that ranged in importance from a lapel pin to a baseball cap.

The faithful were again tested at lunch time where they had the choice of fasting or of forking over a tidy tithing to the collection plate for food. A meal for two, which consisted of little more than a hot dog (bratwurst) and fries, desert and a glass of water, cost $24 at a self-serve cafeteria. But, it was the cleanest cafeteria I can remember ever having seen.

"Mine is bigger than yours" is a sales approach that was definitely "in" at Photokina. The Biggest Umbrella Award went to Briest Company. Clearly inspired by the X-Files, their NASA-sized lighting umbrellas are big enough to photograph any fixed-orbit satellite from the comfort of your studio.

Significant insights were not easy, given the smoke screen created by the attendees - a sort of permanent soft focus view generated by the masses of cigarette smokers who are rampant in Europe. In a classic example of not being able to see the forest for the trees, it was difficult to get the big picture, given the thousands of exhibits demonstrating every conceivable aspect of photography. But some trends were apparent.

Gazing toward the future, I have seen the light. And, it is digital. The most impressive vision gained at Photokina 96 is of the huge, wall-sized displays of ultra high resolution, flat screen monitors that displayed both moving and still imagery. Dozens of companies filled one hall with two versions of massive display technologies. Some had flat screen computer displays which were tiled together and sequenced with computers. Phillip's Digiwall was the best example of the multi-screen displays. Their wall simultaneously showed still images and motion film in a tiled format that was like combining slide and movie projectors in random, alternating combinations. The second type of large screen is designed to display just one image, but one of exceptional high quality, like a giant TV screen.

The long term implications of high-quality, big screen displays will be profound. They will eventually replace multi-projector corporate slide shows, trade show booth displays, at-home TV screens, and the various current usages of gargantuan photo murals. Expect to also see increases in the amount of moving picture footage being leased from stock archives.

Billboards will gradually be replaced by digital displays. And, there will be a slow shift from other large, print-type displays to TV-like images coming from walls of thin, flat monitors. Again, motion may be the long term trend. At the least, 35mm film will be "good enough" for any size digital display. The need for large format is likely to decline.

Eventually, the same technology that will bring big screen entertainment home to roost will also replace traditional film delivery and projection systems at movie theaters. Look for motion picture studios to eliminate the high cost of duplicating and distributing prints, choosing instead to gain control over their product by transmitting encrypted movies digitally to theaters via satellite links for instantaneous, relay projection onto the big screen.

Through out it all, I had the reassuring realization that all these display options have an insatiable appetite for content ... and the nagging reminder to hang onto as many content copyrights as possible. Though silver halide photography is far from dead, keep one eye on that digital stuff. It's truly awesome.

randy taylor1123 broadway suite 1006new york ny10010 usa917 834 9793