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Trending: What Are NFTs? And How Will Crypto Art Shape Photography?

By David Schonauer   Tuesday March 16, 2021


Suddenly, everyone is talking about NFTs. Recently a collage of hundreds of brightly colored images (title: “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”) made by a South Carolina artist known as Beeple sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million. The staggering price is the third highest ever for a work by a living artist, second only to pieces sold by art-world giants Jeff Koons and David Hockney.  The collage is entirely digital—in effect, what the unnamed buyer bought “is not very different from the photo posted at the top of this article,” noted The Washington Post, which published the work online.

What sets the Beeple work apart, though, is that it is an NFT, or non-fungible token. “Using the same principles behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, NFTs allow people to claim ownership over specific digital files, be they songs, videos or static images,” explained The Post.

 The sale, declared The New York Times, is the strongest indication yet that NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens,” have taken the art market by storm. “Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, is the latest beneficiary of a rush into NFTs that’s a side effect of the fast-growing interest in digital currencies and the technology behind them,” added The Times.

“Like the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, NFTs run on blockchain technology,” noted Bloomberg. “Unlike Bitcoins, each NFT can be a unique digital property—one NFT can represent ownership of a specific work of art. It can also be designed to suit a creator’s needs: NFTs connected to Beeple’s artworks, for instance, give him a 10-percent royalty every time his art changes hands. Far more important, Beeple’s NFTs have his signature and proof of sale built into their code. There’s no way to fake or forge or replicate one of his artworks, at least as long as the NFT is considered integral to the work.”

NFTs’ ability to confer uniqueness has led to a boom in digital art’s collectibility, added Bloomberg. Before, anyone could replicate an image an infinite number of times, making it impossible to create the perception of scarcity or value.

The whole of idea of NFTs, noted Bloomberg, has a precedent in photography collecting. Like digital art, a photograph can be reproduced over and over and over from its original negative. Yet despite that reproducibility, not all prints are priced accordingly. “The market has always had ways in which to maintain value,” says Geoffrey Batchen, a professor of art history at the University of Oxford who recently published the book Negative/ Positive: A History of Photography.

PetaPixel recently reported on another sign of the exploding market for “crypto art”: A collaboration between Hologram company Looking Glass Factory, musician Reggie Watts and electronic band Panther Modern to create a hologram art piece (titled “The NonCompliance of Being”) being auctioned through Zora.

“The NonCompliance of Being”

“Artists have been experimenting with digital art, blockchain technologies, and cryptocurrency since 2011, while collectibles have existed far longer,” said Looking Glass Factory. “Crypto art blends all of these trends to create a decentralized collectibles marketplace that artists can use to securely sell their works and build their communities.”

Meanwhile, Hypebeast reported that Brooklyn-based photographer Anthony Geathers is releasing a capsule collection featuring limited-edition hoodies, tees, hand-signed and numbered prints as well as NFTs featuring his imagery. “The selection of photos is part of the multimedia launch called BLACKSTARS with proceeds to benefit the Divine Action non-profit organization that spearheads initiatives to educate, organize and empower Black people,” noted Hypebeast.

Adorama recently published an “NFT 101 for photographers” article. PetaPixel noted that while the crypto art scene is currently on the rise, “some investors warn that the inflating market could signal a price bubble and caution that as is the case with many new niche investment areas, there is a major risk for loss if the hype were to die down. Additionally, these experts warn that it is a prime market for fraud as many participants operate under assumed names.”
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At top: Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”

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