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Photoplus Expo
By Ron Steinman

On entering the PhotoPlus Expo the first thing I saw was a large, neatly folded stack of yellow plastic bags with the word Nikon emblazoned across the back and front. They were there so that anyone entering that vast hall of all things photography would have a place to put the magazines, brochures, the occasional pen and pad they had collected during their visit. After that, everywhere I went, the yellow bags followed, each moving to the sway and gait of the person holding them. I was in a sea of yellow with slashes of black, but only if I looked down and not up.
I am just back from a remarkable and at times overwhelming exhibition called Photoplus Expo, the recent photography and design conference held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York.

For photographers, professionals and amateurs, the more than 400 booths, a quick count by the way, gave all the spectators a chance to wander through the hall like kids in a candy store.

What did I come away with after visiting the site for over two days? First, still photography with all the many elements that go into getting a photo, is alive and well. But with a difference. Wandering through the hall, hearing people talk, watching them at booths run by Canon, Nikon, Leica, Hasselblad, Apple, Sony, Hewlett Packard, Epson and others, if it was not apparent before, it is now -- digital rules and film is on life support, almost dead.

Entering the hall, the major companies immediately grab your attention with their big booths and big signs. Crowds appear at the counters as if by magic. Positioning is everything at an exhibition such as this one. The exhibitors who want your attention pay heavily for the space near the entrance because they want you to come to them first. People do just that. Each of the major sites also staged lectures by well-known photographers, who were, more often than not, selling their recent books. I have no problem with that. Anyone who writes a book should get maximum exposure. Acting as a fly on the wall and jumping from talk to talk, though there were a few where I stayed longer than I thought I would, I came away from each with more knowledge than I had before. That was good. Sometimes the best part of a presentation was having a place to sit, and to rest, before moving on to the next booth, the next target. This helped me, and probably other people, get through the day, because for the most part sitting or resting was not an option.

Part of the problem with exhibits such as PhotoPlus Expo is that the size of the hall with its great height is at times overwhelming. Once you look past the booth you are visiting and then look up, you might find yourself, as I did on occasion, discombobulated. Lost. Disoriented. But then you move forward because there is another booth down the row, another row of booths down a different aisle, another aisle in an endless round of aisles.

The variety and beauty of all the digital cameras often astounded me. The Leica exhibit with its cameras that were simultaneously simple but also had a sharpness of design and clarity of purpose, sent whispers of desire from my heart to the camera, but to no avail. Hearing the professionals extol the virtues of the Leica told me my wavelength was still working. This is not to take anything away from the wonders of Canon, Nikon and others. The Leica exhibition reminded me of my days in Vietnam in the late 1960s when I could have purchased many a Leica M3 body on the Saigon black market for under fifty bucks -- or less if I were in a mood to haggle. Alas, I never did because of more pressing needs.

Most imposing were the printers that reproduced large format color photos made with digital cameras. The clarity, sharpness and brilliant colors were something to behold. I wondered, though, how many people wanted poster size prints instead of smaller format, equally sharp reproductions they could distribute to friends and family, use for calendars, and to show off their latest grandchild? Not many, I would venture, but the exhibits that showed off this latest digital technology were sometimes startling, and something I found myself drawn to as I wandered through the hall in search of whatever else was new.

At NBC News for 35 years, Ron Steinman was bureau chief in Saigon, Hong Kong and London, was a senior producer on Today and wrote and produced for Sunday Today. At ABC News Productions, he produced and wrote documentaries for A&E, TLC, Discovery, Lifetime and the History Channel. He has a Peabody, a National Headliner award, a National Press Club award, a International Documentary Festival Gold Camera Award, two American Women in Radio & Television awards and has been nominated for five Emmy's. He is a partner in Douglas/Steinman Productions, whose latest documentary, "Luboml: My Heart Remembers," aired on PBS' WLIW/21 and the History Channel in Israel, April 29, 2003. He is the author of, "The Soldiers 'Story", "Women in Vietnam," and most recently, "Inside Television's First War: A Saigon  Journal," University of Missouri Press, 2002.


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