by Julian Jackson
Photography industry people love a good gabfest, and where better to do that than the annual fotofringe event, held in London’s King’s Place arts and media hub, right next to the iconic HQ of the Guardian and Observer newspapers. This was the fifth year of this successful trade fair, and with over 600 visitors, primarily photobuyers, and 100 photo agencies exhibiting, it was a intense but fun day.
Corbis and Gettyimages were there, but also the full spectrum of UK photo agencies exhibited, from companies representing the work of one photographer, like Homer Sykes or Werner Forman Archive, through smaller archives like FLPA or John Birdsall Social Issues Photolibrary, via a healthy mooch of museums (there I’ve made up a collective noun for them), to massive collections such as Mirrorpix, which has over a century of British newspaper photographs going back to 1903, totalling100 million images.
Fotofringe owner Flora Nedelcu of TopFoto said, “There’s always a really nice vibe here, people really, really like it. There are always new collections to show to the world so I am looking forward to next year.” Flora’s energy and enthusiasm make fotofringe what it is, and libraries are already booking for next year’s event, which will be on Thursday 21 April 2016. She added, “It’s a good idea for photobuyers to register in advance, it’s free and it saves you time on the day.”
The event takes place on several different levels, and every library, large or small, just gets one table. This is rather egalitarian, and also focuses the minds of the exhibitors on what to bring to show visitors. So there aren’t any large and elaborate displays but more catalogues, flyers and postcards, which are manageable to carry. There are a fair few giveaways, including a lot of chocolate and sweets. Though I declined some, I weakened later on, needing the sugar rush to counteract afternoon lethargy. I hope that the exercise of walking round a lot has cancelled out the extra calories. Brownie points to BAPLA, the British trade association, for stumping up a free lunch doggie bag. This solved last year’s problem of a mammoth gridlock at the King’s Place cafe.
I asked a lot of exhibitors about the state of play in the UK industry. Most were cautiously optimistic, saying that the things were better than after the nadir following the financial crash of 2007/8, but prices were still low. Many noted that they were making up in volume on sales rather than prices. Anders Granberg of Ardea said, “I think the depression in the industry has bottomed out. We are expanding our collection and acquiring new photography.” Martin Gibbs, of News Syndication, felt that although the magazine market had declined, “Book publishing is steady and more books are being published now.” Some agencies thought that their overseas sales were stronger than the UK home market and that was where they were trying to increase sales, either directly or by partnership with other distributors.
I didn’t manage to talk to all the agencies, and regrettably, I did waste some of the time gossiping with friends and colleagues. I only get to do this once a year! I will try to pick out some subject matter which may be of interest to US readers. Mary Evans Sales Manager Lucinda Gosling also writes pictorial books on what I can only describe as “Quirky British subjects” often relating to the First World War.
Homer Sykes has been cataloguing British life since the sixties. His work centres on sub-cultures and people that more mainstream photographers might miss. Writer Pictures does what it says on the tin: they have an archive of images of writers, both current and historical. They are based in that most literary of cities, Edinburgh, and were founded by Alex Hewitt because he couldn’t find writer images for his feature pages while he was working for a newspaper there, even though he would regularly see authors like crime maestro Ian Rankin or JK Rowling walking round the city.
This year there were really only two technology companies exhibiting. Above All Images is a new aerial photography venture. They have created their own custom aircraft filming rig, which produces stunning footage, and is capable of being fitted to a single-engine Cessna, thus reducing significantly the cost of aerials. As a technology geek I was intrigued but they were rather reticent and wouldn’t tell me how they put it together. Keeping it Top Secret. But it certainly works.
More down-to-earth is Capture. They produce Digital Asset Management software, which manages all aspects of running an image agency. They also have software called CaptureDesk, which is aimed at photobuyers. I was given a demo of the latest version. The objective is to streamline and assist the photobuyer to maximise the way they work on multiple projects. Essentially it is a cloud-based browser plug-in for Chrome or Firefox, which allows you, when you are searching photo library websites, to send the low res images selected into Capturedesk to manage your project. You can put in notes, pricing info and send lightboxes of the whole project or any part of it to clients. It is quite straightforward to use. Some of my photobuyer colleagues swear by it, but you can make up your own mind as Capture do a free trial. Capture CEO Abbie Enock says, “We are building a community of media researchers using Capture Desk, promoting their services and listening to their needs.” The only drawback is that it doesn’t handle high res images or video. Originally that was to keep the price point as low as possible, when storage costs were higher than they are now, but they told me that they are considering adding those improvements to a future version. They are offering a discount of 10% from now till the end of May with this promo code MAY15CD10.
One bonus which added to the atmosphere of the event were the breathtaking landscape photographs of Alexander Lindsay which were not part of fotofringe but are the current exhibition on the walls of King’s Place.
You can see all the exhibitors here:
Julian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His website is www.julianjackson.co.uk. He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course www.picture-research-courses.co.uk. Linked-in profile.