Meet IMS Vintage Photos' CEO Arnaldur Gauti Johnson
CEO Arnaldur Gauti Johnson, for his colleagues Gauti, has been in the photo industry for almost 20 years. When he is not working hard in the office, he is spending time with his beloved family or taking walks with his Golden Retriever Hugo. Since he was young, what motivated him through the challenges in life and at work, was to always have a clear vision in mind. He is driven to push until that vision comes true and that is what made the difference since he began his journey in the photo industry.
His passion for photography began when he was 14 and started experimenting with his father’s camera. He liked it so much that he went on and built a darkroom in his garage! When he realized that he might not be the greatest photographer, he did not let that passion go and, instead, combined it with his love for IT and sales. His vision evolved into selling photos and creating technical solutions to do that online in the most efficient way.
When we asked him about the path that took him to IMS, he responded: “I started out with making websites alongside my University Studies and that evolved into me and four others starting the Digital Photo Agency NordicPhotos. At NordicPhotos we had to grow through several phases since the digital photo industry changed a lot. We had to adapt quickly, and we experimented a lot. One of these experiments was selling the original prints we had in our own old archive, the IMS archive. From the start, it worked very well: we put out just a few images on eBay and most of them sold quickly. The first challenge was the manual work around this: scanning, cataloging, delivering the product and the customer service. That is when we started developing a software and a system to tackle this process and to grow our productivity. Around the same time when the digital side of our business declined (due to the ever-changing market), selling the original prints grew and within 4 years we went from being a 100% Digital Photo Agency to being just for 10% a Digital Photo Agency and for 90% seller of original vintage press prints. This trend continues this very same day as our business is growing while the digital business is declining. Now IMS Vintage Photos started as a project around 5 years ago and it is now a standalone company and my focus is 100% on that”.
The company is at its initial phase and is attracting many new customers. When asked about the goals he has for the company, he mentioned how IMS is now the largest seller of original photo prints in Europe: “We noticed an increasing interest in owning these unique pieces of history, especially in a time where everything seems mono use or digital. People want to own something original and authentic, with a value attached to it. Our goal is to lead the development of this market and help make this more of an experience and an opportunity for people to own these original pictures”.
IMS Vintage Photos has been working closely with four large archives from the UK and Sweden. The plan is to partner with more archives, not exclusively newspaper archives, so to reach new markets and clients. A way to achieve this is through the growing offices in Riga and Reykjavik. In fact, according to Gauti, the biggest strength IMS Vintage Photos has right now is its team: “We have a great team and a good mix of people, with different experiences; we go from people who just started to people who have been working for more than 20 years in the industry. A good mix of skills, creativity, and organization. Nothing happens without a good team. Ours is a very inclusive and open team. In the hiring process we look first and foremost for people who are positive, take an initiative and can solve problems”.
The company faced several challenges such as the financial crash in Iceland (2008) and the need to develop a faster cataloging system. However, in these occasions, the strength of the team came into action and proved how effective teamwork can be: “I have taken on each challenge with my team and although they have been very difficult, we have all tried to learn from them. Without a doubt, this has made me and our team much stronger, with a bigger set of skills and more ready to deal with oncoming challenges. But through all of this, I have also learned that you have to stay positive at all times and you have to enjoy your work and have fun.``
In a digitized world, the preservation of physical prints certainly stands out and makes IMS’ work unique: “The original copy is a piece of history and it is such a shame to have all these great photographs just sitting in closed drawers in archives where nobody can enjoy them. We should spread the enjoyment of photography, display them and have them as reminders of great moments from history”.
The materials hidden in the archives are truly treasures. And when dealing with such old and sometimes delicate pictures, one question arises: why should archives trust IMS? “Our work and long experience should be the biggest factor in why we should be trusted with someone’s archive. We have been in the photography business for over 20 years and for the past 5 years been partnering with external archives, we are proud to use the archives we have worked with as reference as we work very hard to make the projects work for both parties.
There are only two companies in the world doing what we are doing. We are the only one in Europe and what is driving our company now is innovation and technology. Most of our resources are going into developing our system and making it more efficient. There are a lot of opportunities there and we have a lot of new things we are working on.
One of our strengths is that we come from a photographic background and we have programmed all our systems by ourselves through the years. This gives us tremendous experience in knowing how everything works and using our experience to the fullest.”
The work is constant and the team scans up to 9K pictures per day. The digital format, however, is returned to the archives and only the physical pictures are sold to the public. Because of this process often customer raised the question of who owns the copyright of these pictures: “We make it very clear that we are only selling these prints (as collectibles), not the copyright. The customer can not use the photos for publishing, just as he would not do it with photos from magazines or books he owns and could rescan. The archives and the photographers own the copyrights” explained the CEO.
Another interesting fact is how Artificial Intelligence is a big part of IMS’ software development. Gauti explained earlier how innovation and technology are strong pillars on which the company erects itself. While the pictures are scanned manually by the Scanning Team who uses professional scanners, AI is used to rotate images, detect marks, read text and stamps on the back of the photos and to sort out dates and locations from the text. These are just a few examples of how AI is implemented in the company. All the technological developments of the company are carefully carried out and monitored by Gauti's long-time friend and colleague, Hreinn Ágústsson. Hreinn is the Chief Technology Officer at IMS Vintage Photos and works side by side with the team to ensure that the company is developing at the same speed as the market if not even faster. What seems to be a recurrent line that links all employees at the company is the deep love and understanding of the importance of preserving such historical treasures.
These pictures do not just bring us back to the past, but also help us reconnect to our past. Gauti mentioned how often customers find pictures of themselves or their family members: “We get many letters and messages from customers who are finding photos of their relatives or even themselves which they had no idea even existed! They found the perfect gift for their loved ones, a unique photo from an old newspaper archive that somehow is connected to them; these photographs can be so personal and special.”
IMS Vintage Photos is truly enthusiastic to preserve what is old and giving it a new life. The CEO is extremely proud of his team as the company has scanned almost 2 million photographs. Many of these photos had never been seen publicly before and all of them could have been destroyed in a fire or water flood at any time… but IMS saved them!
Gauti concluded our interview saying: “Now 2 million historical moments in history are preserved forever and in addition to that, tens of thousands of people have been able to own these historical prints that were locked away in newspaper archives and only accessible to a handful of people. We are only getting started! I would like people to know and remember IMS Vintage Photos for saving and preserving millions of historical photographs and setting them free to the public to own and enjoy them again!”.
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