VISUAL CONNECTIONS 2015: Real Face Time and Lots of it!

By Brooke Hodess

Despite high winds and whipping rain, a nearly sold out Visual Connections New York 2015 Media Expo took place on Wednesday, October 28, attracting dozens of new exhibitors and a significant increase in the number of big budget art buyers and producers than past expos.

After four years at the Altman Building, the annual trade show for art buyers, producers, editors and sellers returned to the Metropolitan Pavilion, a larger venue that could handle more booths and foot traffic and had a separate floor for educational sessions.

Despite inclement weather, the event drew a full crowd. “We were delighted to attract 24 new exhibitors this year, and a record 60 percent of new buyers attending,” said Edward Leigh, co-president of Visual Connections.

New Collaboration Brings First-Time Exhibitors and Buyers

Less of a challenge and more of a win-win was a new collaboration with Workbook, the leading marketing resource for commercial photographers and illustrators. As Principal Sponsor of the event, Workbook helped attract, for the first time, artist reps. Seven artist reps—including Anderson Hopkins, M Represents Inc, Richard Solomon Artists, Robert Bacall Reps—joined the growing number of exhibitors.

And the reviews were glowing.

Ralph Mennemeyer, managing partner of M Represents , a New York–based agency representing photographers, CGI artists and filmmakers, said, by the end of the day, he believed the event would go beyond his expectations. “I’ve already made a couple of connections with people who I hadn’t seen in years, and I know right away that’s going to get things rolling.”

In turn, Workbook’s presence helped bring new buyers from both the creative side as well as the well-represented book publishers.

Amy Wolff, a freelance photo editor for AARP, said, “I came looking for more diverse stock images and in less than ten minutes I’m finding that here.”

Linda Levy, advertising sales representative for Workbook, showed no signs of disappointment. “I’ve been to many trade. . .the vibe here is terrific,” she said. “People want to be here. They’re engaged. At some of these more enormous trade shows you see a lot of zombie-like looking people trudging around, throwing things in a bag. I haven’t seen that at all here.”

Networking: Real Face Time, Not Facebook

Networking is more often about reconnection than new connections, as expo showers and goers reiterated, and offline face time was a welcome change.

Said Mennemeyer, “Reconnection is key. That’s the business; you’re always reconnecting. LinkedIn, Facebook, they’re all great, but there’s nothing like that one on one.”

Longtime exhibitors as well as buyers, editors and producers, continued to reap the benefits of the close-knit event.

“The fact that it’s my tenth show, it’s obviously beneficial for us to be here, not only to meet new clients but also to touch base with existing clients,” said Tom Haggerty, senior account manager of Bridgeman Images. “It’s probably the best show we do.”

When asked what she liked best about the expo, attendee Sarah Parvis of Downtown Bookworks said, “I am always looking for new photo vendors. And Visual Connections is one great way to meet them. It’s also fantastic to see the faces of people I usually just deal with online.”

Increase in Big Budget Buyers

With 72 companies represented, registration and attendance figures showed a significant increase in the number of big budget art buyers and producers.

“It’s hugely encouraging,” said Leigh. “Twenty-seven percent of this year’s attendees spend more than $10K a year on assignment and production services.” That’s up from 22 percent in 2014.

Worth the Reward Miles and a 13-Hour Flight

Exhibitors traveled across continents to attend.

Sophia Zhang of PanoramaStock flew more than 13 hours from Beijing to set up a booth to show off a collection that specializes in Asian images. “We are the only Asian photo agency here,” said Zhang, “but I think there will be more next year.” The company has been around for more than ten years and want to expand their business. “This is a good place for that,” she said.

Russia-based Dmitry Shironosov came to New York to get feedback from visitors on his visual search engine for microstock photography, Everypixel.com, currently in beta.

Educational Sessions: Knowledge is Key

Three panel discussions were scheduled throughout the day.

The first panel, moderated by Cathy Aron, executive director of DMLA (Digital Media Licensing Association), included panelists Ophelia Chong (Stock Pot Images), Bill Cramer (Wonderful Machine), Moya McAllister (PictureEditors.org) and Nancy Wolff (Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP). The open forum-style exchange informed buyers about different licensing models, pricing, shrinking budgets, large indemnities, copycat rights and the benefits (and pitfalls of social media).

The second session focused on footage as it related to YouTube curation, pricing, key wording, fair use and Creative Commons license. Moderator Matt White, executive director of ASCIL, directed a panel that included Jessica Berman-Bogdan, president and founder of Global ImageWorks; Bobby Dicks, director of sales & licensing, CNN Collection; Analisa Goodin, CEO and founder of Catch & Release; Rich Remsberg, archival and visual researcher; and Alison Smith, who heads up WGBH Stock Sales.

A third panel discussion delved into various visual media issues regarding disposability, democratization, appropriation and memory. Moderator David Newhoff, writer, film and video maker and activist for the cause of creators’ rights in the digital age and creator of the blog “The Illusion of More: Dissecting the Digital Utopia,” led a fiery dialogue with panelists Paddy Johnson, founding editor of Art F City, and Julie Grahame, publisher of aCurator.com, a full-screen photography magazine.

What’s Happening Next?

The collaboration with Workbook will continue as Visual Connections prepares for the Chicago expo on April 28, 2016. Said Visual Connections Co-president Deborah Free, “We are very excited at the prospect of growing our event to include artist reps, productions houses and hopefully more service providers. It makes sense given we are all about visual media. Workbook brings a lot to the table and are equally excited.”

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