As a writer, I’d never attended the Le Book Connections trade show, which serves the creative community (visually creative, that is). So when Bill and Maureen put me on the list with Stockland Martel, who had a booth there, I was really curious about what it would be like.
I went at night, arriving at the venue, the Chelsea Art Museum, just past 7 on Thursday. The sidewalk was clotted with people—smoking, talking, texting, phoning, looking great. It could have been a nightclub, right down to the moment when I asked to gain entry and was looked up and down by the woman at the door, who eyed my personal business card dubiously. She wore a snug white dress that showed off her toned arms, had black hair and dark eyes, and was savoring a cigarette. A young lamblike woman had guided me to this skeptical arbiter after I walked up and explained that though my card does not say I’m with Stockland Martel, I am indeed with the band. As I waited for her decision, I flashed back to some 13 years ago, when I was being appraised for entry into the Click & Drag geek-chic night at Jackie 60 in the Meatpacking District, except the doorperson there was a large, stout woman in a Viking helmet and shiny metal breastplate, and the crowd included a tall, skinny man wrapped head to toe in duct tape… Before I could wander too deeply into this memory, though, the Le Book gatekeeper smiled and showed me the way in.
And then I could see why she was protective of her event. It really was a fashionable affair. Stockland Martel’s booth was on the first floor, and our area was stacked with portfolios. The covers alone communicated the personality of each of our photographers . The book for Matthias Clamer, for example, is handsome and slate-gray, with his name embossed in a tone just slightly darker than that of the cover. Matthias is a friendly guy, an interesting guy, but there remains something unknowable about him. Appealing but unknowable. The cover of his book suggests this and makes you want to know more.
Granted, I didn’t have a ton of time to mingle; Connections closed at 9. But in a determined pass through the other two floors, I was able to meet some really friendly people. The newish photo/literary magazine Dear Dave, had a booth, and I was thrilled to see that photographer and photo editor Carrie Levy, whom I interviewed recently for a story for PDN, was featured in one of the recent issues. (Jessica Craig-Martin and Amy Adams are among the photographers featured in the current issue.) Managing editor Eli Oakes told me about the “Conversations” series the magazine has been hosting to promote photographers’ work. There was one back in February, for example, with writer Philip Gefter and photographer Paul Graham, in conjunction with the latter’s exhibition “a shimmer of possibility” at MoMA. If you’re interested, you can download previous “Conversations” here. I also had a nice chat with Bob Hallisey, product manager at Industrial Color, whose M Project Gallery in Tribeca is currently presenting Jim Fiscus’ “The Unfortunate Moment of Misunderstanding.”
Floor 3 of Connections was home to more reps. I liked the uniformity of the booths’ design: Everyone had a white backdrop with their name printed in black and a string of images along the top, sort of like an overline on a magazine cover. The names of each rep’s talent were printed in the large white space that consumed the bottom 2/3 of this backdrop. So at a glance, you could get who the rep was and whom they represent. And if that intrigued you, you could walk up and flip through the portfolios or take a promo card. Totally efficient and an example of design that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. A trade show that was both easy on the eyes and supplied with you with the details that you needed. Not an easy feat.
I asked Bill Hannigan of Vaughan Hannigan about how one gauges whether an event like this was worth their time. He explained that Vaughan Hannigan is still relatively young—they’ve been around only two years—and that this was their first time at Le Book Connections. They chose to participate after informally polling fellow reps in the business whom they respected. One of the people they consulted noted that his agency could track a direct correlation between the trade show and work that they later got. There’s no better recommendation than that, really. Bill also said that the event was a chance to really capture the attention of art buyers and other potential clients, since they were away from the distractions of their workplaces. And at the same time, many of them experience portfolio overload, he said, so you can’t really be sure what names and images will stay with them after all is said and done. It will be interesting to see which agencies receive follow-up inquiries.
As for me, I think there’s something quite valuable in being among your competition and yet having everyone be forced to present themselves in exactly the same format: white backdrop, white table, and your reps and your stack of books. It’s like in private school when everyone has to wear uniforms. Stripped of all your carefully chosen signifiers, what kind of impression do actually make? How well does your talent show? And how well do you show your talent? It will be weeks before we know in the case of Le Book Connections, but these questions are, I think, worth asking yourself every single day.