A trip to the USA, particularly the PMA always raises the question, how is our industry? How are we doing? How are the Americans doing? The photographic industry has looked to the US since Eastman made photography for everybody The professional photography industry, as we know, was grafted into Australia, directly from the US. Many still believe the US is 6 months ahead of us, although now, with Yervant and David Williams virtually owning the American photographic awards, I think we are slightly in the lead.
Regardless of Yeravant and David’s “bleeding edge” success, the PMA USA is still recognised as the harbinger of future systems and technology.
So how are we doing against the US yardstick? We are doing very well and will continue to do so, and here is my reasoning;
The American people are the greatest innovators, but the time it takes them to change their systems from top to bottom and adapt thoroughly is very slow. Their population is so massive in comparison to ours that they have been able to survive doing what they have always done. If there is no reason to change why change?
We in Australia have had to thoroughly rework our businesses every five years, we have to change often to survive, change is something we are familiar with and many of us enjoy.
Innovation through mass production.
This is another one of the America’s greatest strengths, and it is the best way to make quality impersonal products. The trouble is many operators try to apply it to products that should never be massed produced. Consider food, heavilly processed food is a killer. As far as photography is concerned, mass production is the polar opposite to fine art.
The lure of mass production is hard to resist but mass production is slow to change, and if you mass produce photography and you get grey mush. There are a lot of big studio chains in the US.
Culture of “veneer”.
A great deal of American service (and I experienced the hotels and restaurants) is a veneer. Veneer looks great, but there is not a lot of love behind it. And this culture exists because the size of the population allows the attitude “there is always another customer”.
Another facet to this ‘veneer’ is that the proportion of truly impressive innovators to those that merely copy, is much smaller in the US, therefore you get a lot more average quality work in comparison to outstanding work. And much of this average work is gilded in well practised sales and marketing.
Put the culture of veneer and the slowness to change in an economy that has had solid growth, and then kill off that growth....well you get the picture.
In Australia, we trade on word of mouth, if we are not genuine, the BS meter rings out loud and clear.
So what next.
I am convinced we will feel some of the effects of the Global Economic Crisis, you would be naive to think otherwise, but there will still be discretionary income to be spent. Our job is to see that photography is seen as a priority. Never has it been more important that we deliver innovation, quality, value and service. In US there is already a dramatic move away from those big priced items such as cars and plasma televisions, to small items that make you feel good. Does photography make people feel good?
One of the greatest ideals the US has given the world is Ben Franklin’s words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, photographers are the record keepers of life and happiness. What we do is at the core of society, there is no need for our industry to collapse at the hands of financial cowboys.