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Philippe Gassmann, Director of Picto Lab, sponsor of Rencontres d’Arles


As the 46th edition of the Rencontres d’Arles opens this week, L’Oeil has been taking a look those working in the shadows of photography. We spoke with Philippe Gassmann, Director of the Laboratoire Picto, about the evolution of photography laboratories in the past few years, and what the future holds for Picto, which is celebrating its 65th year as a company in 2015. He announced the take over of Janvier laboratory  and the arrival of Picto in New York.

L’Oeil de la Photographie : The photo lab has undergone many changes in recent years. How did you anticipate these changes?

Philippe Gassmann:
The laboratory is both a witness to and a participant in the history of photography. We’re in daily contact with different figures from the photo world. We do our best to respond to their requests and concerns. When digital first came on the scene, everyone in the photo world had to question themselves, beginning with the photographers. The financial stability of the laboratory was disturbed. The reliable income from developing film and copying slides was no more. We had to reinvent ourselves to respond to the needs of photographers and advertisers. It took Picto 10 years to figure it out, from 2002 to 2012.

LODLP : People were afraid that the advent of digital would lead to the end of printing. How did the laboratory respond to this change?

Make sure you don’t confuse the photo album, which has been replaced by the photo book, with an exhibition print, which we have been producing for 65 years and which was never in danger. What was disruptive was the arrival of pigment printing from Epson and HP. The quality was remarkable, the cost of the printers was low, and suddenly photo paper also became very inexpensive. Repositioning the laboratory’s strategy consisted of adapting these new opportunities for photographers.

LODLP : The profession has diversified. Certain practices have been abandoned while others are innovative. How, in this context, did you manage to respond to the expectations of the market, customers and artists?

PG: Picto’s response was to continue serving professional photographers with three levels of service: the “Expo” service, where the client met with our master printers, who worked with the client throughout the process; the “Pro” service offered in our Picto Bastille location in Paris; and the “Online” service,, where the photographer uploads the photographs, chooses a type of paper, format, cropping, etc., and receives the prints at home.

LODLP : What are the emblematic services offered by Picto? When we talk about photo labs, of course we think of printing. But what’s the market like today?
PG: We just spoke about photo printing, which is the DNA of Picto. Image retouching is the second service that made Picto famous.They’ve been retouching photographs since 1970, well before digital. Back then, we had a special area to make masks… Since 1990, we’ve changed tools but the expertise is still there and available to advertisers.

LODLP : Fifteen years ago, there were quite a few laboratories of many different sizes. Today they’re witnessing a considerable number of takeovers. What are the challenges today?

Dozens of laboratories have disappeared in recent years. When my father died in 2004, Picto had considerable capital which allowed it to be restructured. After decades of luck, it took a good dose of energy to take things in hand and reinvent the laboratory. In 2015, we’re restructuring again. Market consolidation is the order of the day. Picto plans to become the leader of the high-end photo printing market for photographers and advertisers. On that note, I can announce to you the return of the company Janvier – Analogue.

LODLP : You were the first to offer online services, national coverage, you were present at major events and museums (Photoquai, Jeu de Paume, the MEP, Pompidou), festivals (Arles, Promenades Photographiques), fairs (Paris Photo, Fotofever, Art Paris), and are the organizer of many photo prizes, involved with many galleries and artists, and partners with over 30 fine arts and photo schools… What are Picto’s ambitions on a global scale?

PG: Actually, Picto has already expanded internationally, opening a production studio in Manhattan. Picto NY started out working on projects for European luxury brands like Van Cleef & Arpels, Givenchy and Chloé, ensuring a visual coherence to their international campaigns in North America.

LODLP : How is it structured? Is the New York chapter of Picto independent or a subsidiary? What services does it offer?

PG: It’s an 80% subsidiary of Picto Paris. The CEO is a childhood friend, Edouard Beaslay. We wanted to offer a service to manage retouching in the press and on the web for our clients. We think that our reputation and expertise will allow us to attract local brands and photographers to consolidate our presence there.

LODLP : Is the Picto laboratory in New York the beginning of a global campaign?

PG: I’m working on a plan to bring Picto to Asia.

LODLP : Picto is renowned for the quality of its prints and its ability to listen and support the photographers it works with. How would you describe your collaboration with photographers during the printing process? For whom is it intended?

Printing appointments are at the heart of why Picto was created. My grandfather was very close to the photographers in the early days of the Magnum agency. He opened the laboratory because he was passionate about photography and had a talent for printing. He wanted to help his photographer friends make the best prints from their negatives. The printer’s profession is essentially about accompanying the client through the process. The printing appointments are available to anyone who wants to speak with a professional printer and benefit from the expertise of Picto’s team, passed down from generation to generation.

LODLP : There’s a renewed interest in film prints these days. What do you think about it? Is it more than just a fad?

PG: Film printing, as opposed to digital, has always been the standard for photographers as well as collectors. I don’t think it’s a fad. It’s proven itself. And we know today that the medium is reliable and durable. Moreover, people assume that film may disappear. What is rare is valuable. And that makes it more attractive in the short term.

LODLP : What new media are you offering your clients?

Apart from the resin-coated inkjet format, which is the pigment printing version of traditional film printing, we also offer a wide variety of textured paper for fine art inkjet prints from different manufacturers (Canson, Hahnemühle) which have various white tones, thickness and texture. Last April, we started offering paper from the Japanese manufacturer AWAGAMI. it seemed appropriate for us to expand our offerings. They are of extremely high quality, and have aesthetic features which will open up new horizons for photographers.

LODLP : You work with a lot of big names in photography as well as major brands. Who are your clients and what are they looking for with Picto?

PG: We’re pleased to work every day with the biggest names in photography as well as amateur photographers, reporters, visual artists, institutions, galleries and museums, for whom we produce exhibition prints and installations. Our customers also include large companies in every sector of the luxury industry, and we accompany them every step of the way in their communication projects. Picto’s history reassures people. Our customers know that they’re working with a company whose expertise goes back to 1950. With that history comes experience, and we work to pass down the skills over time. We have to demonstrate our expertise on a daily basis. To that end, everyone at Picto has a special tie to photography and the image. I think our customers are aware of this and will remain with us for a long time to come.

Exhibitions producted in part of Les Rencontres Arles and OFF Festival
From July 6th to September 20th, 2015
– Martin Parr ;
– Thierry Bouët ;
– Julian Baron ;
– Vincent Ferrané ;
– Le Clud des DA (OFF) ;
– Yves Marcellin (OFF) ;
– Nathalie Mazéas (OFF) ;
– Nicolas Gilbert.
34 rue du docteur Fanton
13200 Arles

Laboratoire Picto
53bis, rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris

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