All the Fun of the (Trade) Fair

Close-up photograph of a model of an office building

As I write, the 2013 Cannes film festival is under way. Rainstorms and an unseasonal chill in the air will disappoint any journalists, photographers or film industry visitors who counted on getting a tan during their South of France visit. However, the film festival is not the only event that brings people flocking to Cannes to do business in the sun. Throughout the year, le Palais des Festivals hosts a number of international trade fairs.


A dazzling array of acronyms beginning with ‘M’ gives titles to these business events, which never fails to confuse me. Along with MIDEM (for the music industry), MIPCOM (the TV business), MIPTV (can anyone explain the difference between those last two?), MIPDOC (documentary TV) and MIPJunior (for under-16 businesspeople only?), there are also MIPIM (property) and MAPIC (also property – but retail only), among others. I feel a sense of relief as Cannes Lions comes around and I know instantly what’s going on (advertising). Each trade show brings a flood of suits to Cannes, yet each event has a different atmosphere. Earlier this spring I was on assignment at MIPIM…

Suits, cigars and skyscraper heels

Welcome to the daddy of the property event world. MIPIM is where real estate celebrates itself. Snappily dressed architects, canapés in hand, mingle somewhat uncomfortably with suited corporate development execs on motor yachts that are draped with company signage. Large, cigar-smoking men who look like the bad guy in a movie you saw recently (you know, the one where an idyllic village and its naive community of organic-goat-hair-knitting residents are flattened to make way for a new 12-lane motorway) strut up and down la Croisette, wafting a mix of expensive scent and testosterone, and talking loudly. Pneumatic blondes of Amazonian stature invite delegates into exhibition stands, where intricate scale models of urban developments and phallic tower blocks provide an alternative focus of attention. (I learned, by the way, that such ladies’ ability to wear shoes with skyscraper-high heels is often assisted by an injection of Botox into the soles of the feet, to make the pain bearable).

Size matters

Certain countries, regions and cities have their own exhibition spaces, and try to outdo each other by employing the cunning techniques of tent size and placement, aforementioned hostesses, and snacks (not forgetting the maquettes of urban developments, of course). London had bagged a beachfront tent spot near the entrance and boasted one of the largest urban development models. Paris, however, was hands down the best place to be at breakfast time (excellent croissants and coffee, with minimal unnecessary chatter) and Turkey, the country of honour, offered delicious baklava and Turkish delight, ideal for a photographer to snack on when energy levels were flagging. I didn’t make it to the Nice / Cote d’Azur stand until late afternoon, by which time the glass box encasing the model of a future vision of the French Riviera had become a convenient table for l’aperitif.

Trade show haze and happy bankers

My photography was mainly for an editorial feature on what’s hot in urban planning for Monocle magazine, as well as to produce imagery for a slideshow which would give a general flavour of MIPIM on Monocle’s website. The editor had delayed her flight from London at the last minute, so while I was waiting to discover which ‘bold new projects’ she wanted me to shoot, I had plenty of time to soak up the ambiance. After nosing around the 1,800 exhibition stands, my own personal opinion of what architecture stood out was quickly subsumed into a general trade show haze.

Being an editorial photographer was not my only preoccupation, however. I threw myself wholeheartedly into the spirit of the event with a second trade show pass, this one for my work as a corporate photographer. At certain pre-arranged times during the week, I dutifully hauled my wheelie bag up and down La Croisette between my German banking client’s stand at le Palais des Festivals and their beachside lunch receptions at l’Hotel Carlton, where happy bankers royally entertained their real estate buddies. It all seemed a far cry from the Eurozone financial sector doom and gloom I read about elsewhere. Or maybe the sunshine in Cannes was just working its magic….

Back to Posts