If you haven't heard of NFTs yet you may be in the minority. If you have heard of NFTs and still have no idea what they are, you are not alone. I am just scratching the surface of the world of NFTs and my thoughts on what they could mean for the future of photography. In an effort to put these thoughts on paper, as well as share my experience so far with the process of joining he NFT community and ultimately minting my first NFT, I decided to do what I always do and write about it. I know you have questions. So. many. Questions. Let me share with you a few I started out with and my experience in the NFT space.
A Public Service Announcement
Before we go any further, allow me to introduce myself and present you with an offer that may interest you. My name is Aaron Reed and I am one of the worlds most prominent landscape photographers who specializes in museum quality art prints. If you are a collector interested in the world of NFT Photography, I am in a unique position to offer you both physical and digital artwork that has the potential to increase in value over time. I would be happy to help you procure both an amazing piece of art for your home, accompanied with an NFT that represents the work. Please reach out to me directly with any questions you may have. Now that we have got that out of the way...let's continue.
What the @%#&! is an NFT?
A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, called a blockchain, that certifies a digital asset to be unique and therefore not interchangeable. NFTs can be used to represent items such as photos, videos, audio, and other types of digital files. Access to any copy of the original file, however, is not restricted to the buyer of the NFT. While copies of these digital items are available for anyone to obtain, NFTs are tracked on blockchains to provide the owner with a proof of ownership that is separate from copyright.
NFTs function like cryptographic tokens, but, unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, NFTs are not mutually interchangeable, so not fungible. While all bitcoins are equal, each NFT may represent a different underlying asset and thus have a different value. This cryptographic transaction process ensures the authentication of each digital file by providing a digital signature that is used to track NFT ownership. Because of their unique identifiers, NFT are being used to secure digital certificates of ownership of artworks. It’s important to understand that an NFT is not:
- An artwork—digital or otherwise
- Rights—to copy, disseminate, or display the artwork
- Exclusive versions of the JPG that serve as the digital surrogate for physical art
Let There Be Light, a Limited Edition Print Run of 50 currently over 75% Sold Out. The NFT of this image sold for 3E (over $12000 USD).
What Are The Benefits of NFT's?
The benefits of NFTs apply to any artist who works online. Through their special encryption and ability to be traded, they provide greater security, profitability, and recognition for creators.
Since the internet emerged, digital artists have struggled to maintain sovereignty over their work. Images can be saved, mp3s can be downloaded, and pretty much any kind of digital file can be transferred at will into the private files of an individual. NFTs cannot prevent versions of your work from being saved, but they can act as a standard for determining and generating authenticity.
NFTs are created using something called block-chain encryption. This is a complex process by which the data that makes up a digital artwork is written into many randomized blocks of computer code. These blocks are quite large and, thus, impossible to replicate or duplicate. Each NFT’s encryption “signature” is stored in a special virtual ledger, so that any version of that file appearing in the future can instantly be recognized as an original or a copy.
This means that online artists can now begin producing and selling their work as they would in the physical world. The sense of uniqueness and authenticity created by block-chain encryption drives up the value and demand for digital artworks in ways never before possible.
Before NFTs, there was little incentive to purchase online art unless you wanted it to be printed and mounted somewhere. Why purchase a digital image or a song when it can be saved via screenshot or downloaded from Youtube? This, of course, is disrespectful and detrimental to the livelihood of creators, but a common occurrence nonetheless.
NFTs redefine digital art as something unique and irreplaceable, like a photographic print or a painting. Now there is greater reason (beyond morality) to own an artwork as an NFT; digital media is no longer just a source of entertainment or stimulus, but a repository of value and an object of scarcity. For the artist, this means more money to be made from each piece of art produced, and vastly increased viability for digital art as a business or career.
Finally, NFTs are quickly rising in popularity which means that artists turning their works into tokens will have a great deal of visibility on digital marketplaces. As the scene develops, these platforms will become akin to real-world auction houses and galleries, providing artists with the representation, recognition, and compensation for their work they deserve.
While you may not have heard of an NFT yet, if this is your first time hearing about cryptocurrency, you should probably climb out from under that rock. A cryptocurrency, crypto-currency, or crypto is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange wherein individual coin ownership records are stored in a ledger existing in a form of a computerized database using strong cryptography to secure transaction records, to control the creation of additional coins, and to verify the transfer of coin ownership. Cryptocurrency does not exist in physical form (like paper money) and is typically not issued by a central authority. Cryptocurrencies typically use decentralized control as opposed to a central bank digital currency (CBDC).
Punks Sell But Who's Buying?
One look at the digital assets that sell on NFT websites like Foundation, OpenSea & SuperRare will make anyone ask the same question. WHO would buy these and WHY? The most expensive NFT sold to date was minted by Beeple and sold through Christie's at auction for 69 million dollars. CryptoPunks, have also sold for millions of dollars including a masked alien punk that fetched 11.75 million. If that looks like a pixelated JPEG to you, you can skip your next vision appointment because that is exactly what the buyer received in return for his or her purchase.
The best way to explain the value of an NFT so that the average person can understand it, is to think of it as you would a baseball card, although digital. It is a collectable digital asset that is verifiable on the blockchain and is connected directly to the artist. In the NFT space are a vast number of buyers and sellers. Some are in it for a quick profit, others are serious long term collectors, choosing only the most valuable and rare assets to purchase. Others are a combination of the two.
So What About Photographers?
Photographers are very active in the community, mostly as sellers but also as buyers. Many photographers support each other across the platform and others move on to trade in non photography related art as well. Personally, I have found some very unique art that I thoroughly enjoy through this experience that I otherwise would have never seen. Some photographers have even gone on to brand themselves exclusively as NFT photographers, something I don't personally think is wise, but to each his or her own!
There is no doubt that many photographers are finding success in the NFT space. Three of the most successful so far include Justin Aversano with his Twin Flames collection, Cath Simard, with her 1/1 landscape photography. Isaac Wright, aka Driftershoots, has built an incredible movement in the space, born from his passion and personal struggles, through his Where My Vans Go Collection.
If All That's True, Then What's The Problem?
The answer to this question is the one I find most thought provoking. You have to remember that I am a nature photographer, who makes his living selling tangible artwork that sells to collectors all around the world. The people who purchase my work are doing so because they enjoy the work itself and enjoy displaying it in their homes and offices. Sure, some may partially buy into me as an artist, or with hopes of their investment increasing in value but at the end of the day it is for the love of the artwork that I am being rewarded and feel good that I am providing them real value in return.
My concerns for photographers in the NFT community surround the struggle that some will ultimately face if it all comes crashing down. I'm not referring to NFT's themselves, I think those are here to stay. I am referring to the buyers. Building and maintaining a thriving art business is quite difficult. It requires a constant stream of both new and recurring clients to maintain any level of success. The NFT space is no different that any other business venture....it takes hard work to build your brand and even more to solidify your place in the world of art. My personal and professional advice is to prepare, both mentally and financially, for the undoubtable bumps in the road.
It is completely possible that the NFT movement continues to grow and to thrive for artists of all kinds, including photographers. It is equally possible that is changes into something completely different or all falls apart. If you are in the space, you understand very well that this is all still very new and there are many unknowns.
The value of your Jpegs, both to the community and to the consumer market at large could dry up completely. Currently, there are real investors in this space, turning a profit on the top 1% of the NFT's with the greatest hype and scarcity, but the instant those buyers catch wind of opportunity sliding many will close their wallets and return to their relationships with Wealth Management Teams, Wall Street and real-world assets.
Are NFTs Safe?
Cryptocurrency and NFTs are swirling with controversy, filled with what ifs and full of hidden dangers lurking in the shadows. The energy used creating ETH is constantly under fire in the media, despite the rumors of cleaner sources of mining and minting to come in the near future. There is also a lot of speculation and finger pointing, either completely unfounded or at the very least, with disregard for relevant factual comparisons.
There are real-world implications of lost wallets, wallet hacks & other unfortunate stories we will continue to hear about in the coming years. As the government continues to investigate and form new laws regarding taxation and any other number of financial costs associated with NFTs, many who have been living it up in the digital world may find themselves in very real trouble in the physical one. Only time will tell.
I have even read a number of tweets from members of the community speaking about taxes and the IRS like it didn't pertain to them. One person even suggested that the Jpegs they were purchasing were a tax write off! There is one thing I know without a doubt. The IRS will be taxing your earnings, just as they do any other earnings you receive and you will ultimately pay them. If you honestly think buying a Jpeg online is a business expense, please do yourself a favor and consult an actual tax professional.
Are There Aaron Reed Photography NFTs?
This is the official collection of Aaron Reed Photography NFT's I minted prior to giving any of this much thought, simply because I wanted to participate in something that seemed like it may be a valuable and interesting new platform for photography in the future. I made an attempt to offer something truly rare by minting images that have already proven their worth will real world value of over 400k each. Due to my business as an artist in the physical world of fine art photography, I often offer limited edition prints with the NFTs I sell, offering a dual value proposition for the buyer.
What Just Happened!?
I ultimately decided to launch a project on Open Sea titled The Laws of Abstraction, to see if I could sell any NFTs without any deep & long term involvement in the community. I didn't expect much to be honest. After a few minutes I sold my first NFT! I was truly excited to sell one, not because of the money but because it was new and exciting. Then I sold 4 more! Then 8 more! In less than 24 hours I had sold out the entire collection of 36 NFTs! What just happened?
My first collection Laws of Abstraction sold out in 24 hours. Recently, I have launched Laws of Abstraction II, titled ArtRocks, made up of 1/1 Photography NFT's of semi precious jaspers and other stones. I am not marketing this collection in the same way I did my last project, allowing it to grow organically. There are many things I enjoy about the NFT space, but shilling my work constantly is not one of them. If that fact keeps me from landings sales, so be in. My 1/1 collection on Foundation has done well so far, selling 4 images ranging from $2000 to $12000 USD. At the time of this writing I have sold a total of 45 photography NFTs.
So What's NEXT!?
I must admit some of my skepticism of the community and NFTs themselves was unfounded, but the space is far from ideal. I still believe this platform can become something more than what it is currently. For that to happen, it will require a more sustainable business model, real world value to offer true collectors and the overall buy in of large scale investors. The applications for the technology itself are endless. That doesn't reduce the number of financial, emotional and creative casualties that will occur along the way.
Unfortunately, unlike the world of PFP's (personal profile pics) like the Bored Apes and Crytopunks, there isn't a cool factor or social media flex associated with photography NFTs within the community. More photographers are coming to the space in droves as well, making it more and more difficult to be seen by potential collectors.
So ARE NFT's The Future of Photography?
Photography is a beautiful art form and has enriched countless lives in so many ways. No one will be sending NFT's of their children to grandma and grandpa in the future, but they certainly have a place in this world and the world of art. Those who are participating are highly creative, motivated and are thinking outside the box. That combination will always find successs! As someone who sells large photographic prints, I already feel like we have done ourselves a disservice by creating beautiful works of art that ultimately get resized, cropped and chopped to fit into a tiny square on our favorite social media platforms, so untimately I would like to see NFT's evolve into large scale art installations and gallery shows. I am confident we will get there, probably sooner than later!
A Few Words From TJ Thorne
My friend TJ Thorne has been involved in the NFT space for some time and just launched his first collection with great success. He shared the following with me, which I have pasted here, with his permission in it's entirety.
Aaron and I have talked about this at length. Here are my thoughts… take them or leave them.There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what an NFT even is. Before I get into my explanation, please understand that whether or not anyone understands it.. the world is going digital. It HAS been going digital. How do you watch your movies now? VHS? DVD? Or streaming? Do you still buy video game cartridges? What about digital cameras? It started in the entertainment industry and it’s starting to filter into the art industry. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the term “digital artist”, right? How about motion graphics design? If you hire a graphics designer to make your business logo.. are they doing it on paper and handing it to you or do they do it digitally and send you a file?
The same way that there are people who value physical things there are also people who value digital things. People who will pay money… GOOD money.. for digital assets. This was a thing even before NFTs. Agree with or understand the people who value digital assets or not… that’s just fact.So what is an NFT? Imagine there is a single Babe Ruth baseball card in the entire world. ONE. But… it’s digital. To some people that digital scarcity has value. It is undeniable and traceable PROOF that they own it. That’s what the whole point is… the PROOF that they own it. Think of it like a digital Certificate of Authenticity that cannot be forged. One of the first NFTs to gain traction were the CryptoPunks. These were given away for free in 2017. You just had to claim one. They’re all algorithmically created. 10,000 “punks” made out of 10,000 pixels, no two alike. Each has certain traits and some traits are more rare than others. The combination of those traits determines their value based on rarity.
So why are they selling for millions? Because they’re historical. Because people like them. Because they’re collectibles (remember Beanie Babies? Pokemon? Magic the Gathering?).NFT art is simply that. A one of a kind artwork that lives on the blockchain that some people value. Some people buy them to keep.. some people buy them as investments. And yes… they make 5… 6… even 7 figures of profit. And QUICK.I know that some people will say “just download the picture!!! Same thing!!!” Yeah sure.. download the picture. But again.. it’s the PROOF that you own the original. Go ahead and buy a print of a Picasso. You don’t own a real one. It’s the same exact thing…. just in the digital world.
I know that some people will say “Well someone can just take someone else’s photo and sell it as their own.” Well… yes. But have you ever heard stories of people buying fake Picassos? Fake Rembrandts? Same thing… just digital. Buyer beware. Do your own research. The proof is all on the blockchain.And this is just the beginning. NFTs will, and are becoming more mainstream. Look at NBA Top Shot. You can OWN a digital highlight of a historical sports clip. The possibilities on the blockchain are endless. Buy a NFT for a movie and OWN the 20 different outtakes that Jack Nicholson improvised for a scene. Buy a NFT movie ticket. Down the line.. maybe that NFT movie tickets gets you into an exclusive event. Buy an NFT ticket to a sports game and maybe down the line the ownership of the NFT gets you into a meet and greet. These are the types of things that you will start to see on this new version of the internet… which is called Web 3.0.
An internet that is more decentralized.. more self-communicative.. more immersive. Technology is moving fast.As for the accusations being lobbed that it is a scam/pyramid scheme.. no one is being deceived. That’s what fraud/scam is: deception. Everyone knows what they’re getting. There is no pyramid. Fees for using the service? Yes. PERPETUAL royalties (!!!!) to the creator/artist? Yes… if they set them in the contract. But once you own an asset it’s yours to do with what you please. If you sell it… you get the money less the royalty that goes to the creator/artist. This is a win for artists and creators who get to be perpetually paid for their work on the secondary market. An artist getting a piece of the pie that they baked. Imagine if you sold a print for $1,000 and then the person who bought that print sold it for $1,000,000. You get none of that. On the blockchain.. you do.
Yes, the environmental concerns are real. To that point, Ethereum, which is where much of the NFT world resides, is transitioning to “proof of stake” instead of “proof of work” which is much more energy efficient. This is what the blockchain Tezos runs on, which is lauded for its minimal energy usage. Personally, I have a very small carbon footprint. I rarely fly or travel at all. I always buy used. I don’t eat very much (about once a day).All of this is still so early. Do I think that you have to get involved or get left behind? No. This is simply adjusting business to market trends, and this is just one trend of many.I hope this helped you understand a little more about all of this very confusing technology.
You don’t have to use it… you don’t have to agree with it.. you don’t have to understand it. But blockchain technology will indeed become more and more of a part of the mainstream world. How that plays out for the photography industry is anyone’s guess.
Real Art, For Real Walls, of Real Homes.
If you made it this far you must be REALLY bored. While I am not the most prolific writer or the most inspirational photographer, I am a better photographer than I am a writer. :) If you would like to see more of the gallery quality fine art photography prints that I offer you can browse my online galleries for sale on this website. If you want me to sell you a JPEG instead, don't worry I've got you covered. Either way, it's all love.