Can NFTs enable photojournalists to achieve financial freedom?

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Especially in the context of the isolation of physical space by the epidemic in the past two years, exchanges and transactions about art have occurred more in virtual space, and NFT has become a good carrier

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The NFT work “Dust” sold by the Associated Press “Bazaar”

On April 30, 2004, Kabul, Afghanistan, a gust of wind blew dust and the headscarves of Afghan women. The signed version of the work sells for 0.22100 ether ($650, or about 4,131 yuan). Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Text / Qu Junyan

In January of this year, the Associated Press announced a partnership with technology company Xooa to launch a blockchain-based photography NFT platform, called “The marketplace”, which sells AP’s award-winning news photos and historical old photos, etc. video resources. The first batch of photos released cover topics such as space, climate, war and hot events.

Each NFT image in the “bazaar” contains rich raw data information, including time, date, location, equipment parameters, etc. The price is not fixed. Collectors of all levels can conduct “seamless” transactions on the platform, and it also supports buying and selling through credit cards and other means on the secondary market.

As early as last year, the Associated Press has begun to get involved in the NFT field. They teamed up with OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace, to auction off 10 artistically expressed versions of some of the classic news photos. The launch of its own NFT platform, Dwayne Desaulniers, director of blockchain and data authorization at Midland Community, said: “For 175 years, Associated Press reporters have recorded the world’s most important events with gripping images. …We are proud to present these tokenized photos to the rapidly growing global collection of NFT photography.”

The NFT work “Ashes” sold by the Associated Press “bazaar”

A house is covered in volcanic ash in La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain, November 1, 2021. The signed version of the work sells for 0.27030 ether ($795, or about 5,053 yuan). Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

The NFT work “Embers” sold by the Associated Press “bazaar”

A firefighter stands alone in the embers of a wildfire in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California, U.S., September 6, 2018. The signed version of the work is priced at 0.32300 ether ($950, or about 6,038 yuan). Noah Berger/Associated Press

The NFT work “Embers” (3D version) sold by the Associated Press “Bazaar”

Swedish digital artist Marko Stanojevic has artistically processed the image above and created a 3D version of the audio and video. The price has also risen, reaching 4.08000 ETH ($12,000, or about 76,272 yuan).

The three letters of NFT are now occupying major technology headlines, and 2021 is called “the first year of NFT”. The full name of NFT is “Non-fungible token”, which is a digital certificate based on blockchain technology and cannot be copied, replaced or subdivided. Digital artwork is one of the most common application scenarios of NFT. one. After purchasing an NFT work, it is equivalent to obtaining a limited edition of the work, marking the sole ownership of the work. Different from ordinary digital artworks, NFT works are recorded on the blockchain, and they are all traceable and can only be traded as a whole, and the data they contain cannot be tampered with after they are released. Of course, photos, animations, music, videos, texts, publications… “Everything can be NFT”.

Currently, the auction record for the entire NFT space comes from Mike Winkelmann, a digital artist known as “Beeple.” On March 11, 2021, Beeple’s work “Every Day: The First 5,000 Days” was sold at Christie’s for US$69.35 million (approximately RMB 450 million), making him the third most expensive living artist in the world with this work. .

Everyday: The First 5000 Days by digital artist beeple. This picture is a collage collection of the artist’s 13 years of daily creation of a digital painting, many of which contain reflections and responses to social realities. Image source: Christie’s official website

Now, photographers around the world have started using the NFT market as a new export for their photos. Some foreign media predict that photography will become the next hot trend of NFT in 2022. On the OpenSea platform, the world’s largest NFT trading market, “photography” is a separate category, and many homepages of photographers and photographer groups have appeared.

Pulitzer Prize winner Scott Strazzante, a photojournalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, described his encounter with NFTs in an article.

In August 2021, after waiting for more than half a year, Strazant began to sell his work on OpenSea. In the first month, he sold nearly 50 photos for 0.2 ETH (Ether) each, which was equivalent to $40,000 (about 262,400 yuan) at the time. When a collection is sold, Strazant, the creator of these NFTs, will get a return of about 10% for every resale the buyer resells on the secondary market.

But entering the NFT also has to bear a certain cost. The creator converts ordinary digital files into digital assets on the blockchain. This “casting” process requires a fee, commonly known as “gas fee”, as compensation for computing energy consumption on the blockchain. This money is equivalent to the handling fee to the platform, which is generally between tens to hundreds of dollars. If the work cannot be sold, it means that the handling fee is also lost. On the OpenSea platform, sellers can mint an NFT piece for less than $100, which is ultimately borne by the buyer.

Strazant posted three projects he shot at once, each containing dozens of photos. After a brief taste of the sweetness, he soon found that sales of his works were rapidly declining. Collectors who buy works are almost all in order to make a profit from the process of quick resale, and some collectors who can’t stand it, the resale price listed is even lower than the purchase price. “Only one person bought it out of an interest in art, and 99 people just bought it for resale,” Strazant said.

Before long, Strazant also went from seller to buyer. He used half of the income from his NFT works to support other photographers, and at the same time purchased the popular ape avatar series in the NFT circle. An ape portrait is much more expensive than ordinary photography. The “Desperate Ape Wives” portrait that Strazant bought was worth 0.6 ether (about 11,496 yuan), and his own photo was sold for Most are less than 0.2 ether. The “Bored Ape Yacht Club” series of portraits located at the top of the pyramid of the NFT portrait circle, now the minimum price of each is nearly 2 million yuan.

Strazant’s series of photography “Common Land” sold on NFT trading platform OpenSea. This project spans more than ten years and records the connections between different families living on the same land over time. The project has been published in National Geographic, CBS TV and other media. Image credit: OpenSea

Avatars from the “Desperate Ape Wives” series sold on the OpenSea platform. There are 10,000 different avatars in the entire collection, priced between 0.3-777 ETH. 777 ether is equivalent to about 14.89 million yuan. Judging from the image, the cheap and expensive “apes” are only different in clothing, expressions, and color schemes. Image source: Screenshot of OpenSea webpage

The most popular “Boring Monkey Yacht Club” series of avatars in the NFT field is currently priced at 18,880 ETH, which is about more than 360 million yuan, and the cheapest one is 100 ETH, which is close to 1.92 million yuan. Image source: Screenshot of OpenSea webpage

The “Crypto Punks” series of avatars is also one of the most popular NFT avatar series, and the price is also expensive. Image source: Screenshot of OpenSea webpage

There are many more photojournalists who embrace NFTs like Strazant. National Geographic photographer and former Magnum member Michael Christopher Brown was one of them. He has photographed all over the world on themes of war, conflict, gender and racial rights, and more. He posted 4 photography projects on OpenSea, and the project with the highest transaction volume sold 6.5 BTC. He himself often promotes his NFT works on other social platforms.

Female photojournalist and filmmaker Barbara Davidson opened a homepage on Foundation, another NFT platform, and released the epidemic-themed photography project “Pandemic Evidence”, a total of 20 pieces, photo content It was filming passers-by wearing masks in the same place on the streets of Los Angeles, but the response was mediocre, and only one-fifth of the sales were sold.

While NFTs provide a new platform for photojournalism, photojournalists are not the dominant creators in the NFT world.

Strazant observed that, in terms of content, landscape and street photographers sold better, followed by art and documentary. He said that there are not many photojournalists in the NFT space right now, probably because many do not own the copyright to most of their work. In addition, most of the NFT prices of photojournalists are not as high as those of other photography types.

In the field of NFTs, photographic works may not be as eye-catching as digital art, but this new platform has benefited many photographers. American photographer Justin Aversano, born in 1992, can be described as one of the spokespersons of NFT photography. His most famous project is the “Twin Flames” series on the theme of twins. The origin of the project Is to commemorate the twins who passed away. In November last year, the No. 49 work in “Twin Flames” was finally sold at a price of 871 ETH after two rounds of resale and auction, setting a sales record for NFT photography at that time. Aversano then put most of his earnings into a photography fund to give back and cultivate more NFT photographers.

Today Aversano is more than just a photographer. He founded “Quantum Art”, a platform dedicated to the curation and publishing of NFT photography works, to bridge the gap between photographers and NFT collectors.

Twin Flames #49 sold for 871 ETH. The woman in the picture, holding the death certificate of her twin’s other half, is the only photo in the entire project where only one twin is seen. The creation of the “Twin Flames” project lasted from May 2017 to July 2018. The photographer visited many cities around the world to find images of twins.

Twin Flames #49. On OpenSea, the price of this NFT work has reached 100,786 ether.

Twin Flames #83.

Some NFT photography works on the “Quantum Art” platform founded by Aversano.

Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena is also a leader in NFT photography. His most famous series, The 50 Carpoolers, documents carpooling workers from a bird’s-eye view. This group of works has already been exhibited in many places around the world, and the offline success has continued to the virtual world. Cartagena has a personal website dedicated to displaying NFT works, not only showing the projects he has shot in the past ten years that have now been transformed into NFTs, but also other NFT works in his collection, as well as online NFT exhibitions.

The 50 Carpoolers by Alejandro Cartagena. Image source: Screenshot of Foundation webpage

The End of the City by Alejandro Cartagena. The series took 10 years to create, in collaboration with artist Fernando Gallegos, to document the decay of Latin American cities in their pursuit of modernity. Image source: Screenshot of Foundation webpage

A Small Guide to Homeownership, the award-winning book on urbanization in Mexico. In 2021, Cartagena is one of 4 shortlisted photographers for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award for this project. Image source: Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation official website

The work of photographer Isaac Wright (“Driftershoots”) may be more Internet-like and visually stimulating. In the project “Where My Vans Go” (Where My Vans Go), he wears Vans sneakers to climb to the tops of skyscrapers everywhere, and the picture is breathtaking. White used to be a paratrooper, and climbing expeditions is not a problem. Today he is one of the top-selling photographers in NFT photography, which allows him to invest more money in creation and communication with the art community. In an interview, White said: “Giveting artists financial freedom (through NFTs) is investing in better art.”

Photographer Isaac Wright’s NFT project “Look at the world with sneakers”. The entire project contains 123 photos taken at various high points. Image source: Screenshot of OpenSea webpage

Most of these successful NFT photography works have one thing in common: the entire series is composed of dozens or even hundreds of common pictures, and any one of them is a work of high quality. No matter what the subject matter is, focus on reflecting the color and beauty of the picture. And successful NFT photographers are not shy about talking about money. Cartagena said he was looking for ways to connect sponsors and photographers long before NFTs came along. Today, he not only makes money off of his NFT work, but also starts a community called Obscura, which has about 50 patrons who can help 8 photographers with $50,000 per quarterly project advance to help them Carry out NFT photography creation.

However, the popularity of NFT photography works does not seem to be necessarily related to professionalism. In January of this year, a selfie series released by Ghozali, an Indonesian college student, set off the NFT circle. His photo series “Ghozali Everyday” (Ghozali Everyday), which he posted on the OpenSea platform, contains more than 900 photos of his daily selfies in front of a computer camera from the age of 18 to 22 (2017-2021). The initial price of each selfie was only 0.00001 ether (about $3), but in less than a month, it sold a total of millions of dollars, and even Ghozali himself has no idea why people are so crazy about his selfies. Judging from the photo itself, a unified and recognizable picture is a communication advantage, and a face that can no longer be ordinary may just hit people’s desire for decentralization in the web 3.0 era.

“Ghozali Everyday” series. After the project became famous, cartoon versions, pixel art versions appeared, and some people made NFT screenshots of Ghozali’s Twitter for sale. Image source: Screenshot of OpenSea webpage

In China, the photography industry has also begun to make efforts in the NFT field. Xinhua News Agency announced in December last year that China’s first digital collection of news, themed on selected photo reports in 2021, will be distributed free of charge, with 11 pre-releases, each limited to 10,000 copies, and a special edition with only one release. The themes of the photo include the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party, space launch, the first Olympic gold medal, and vaccinations. Also at the end of last year, Vision China launched the visual art digital collection platform “Yuan Vision”, the first photo of the famous documentary photographer Xie Hailong “I want to go to school” (“Girl with big eyes”), priced at 199 yuan, limited to 10,000 copies, Sold out quickly.

It can be seen that the way NFT is displayed in China is slightly different. Domestic platforms avoid the financial attributes of NFTs and are collectively called “digital collections”, and their secondary transactions are also strictly restricted, allowing only buyers to collect them. Although some hype in the secondary market occurs from time to time, regulation always follows. In addition, domestic digital collection trading platforms only allow the use of RMB and cannot use cryptocurrencies. Therefore, the pricing of domestic digital collections is generally more reasonable, and the operation is more stable, and there will be no sky-high prices of several hundred million for one head.

The rise of NFTs around the world has made the display and realization of photographic works faster, and the relationship between photographers and collectors has become more flattened. With the help of NFT, the commercialization of photography has become a more legitimate concept. Under an appropriate mechanism, works will continue to appreciate in circulation, bringing continuous income to creators. In addition, the copyright of photographic works has been better protected, and its value has been recognized as it should.

Photographers who have become famous in the era of social networking, although the exposure has increased, the income model is still unstable. Cartagena mentioned in an interview that since the advent of the Internet, the value of photography has been continuously depreciated, and the huge circulation of images has not brought corresponding income to photographers. He believes that this status quo will be changed in the third generation of the Internet in the metaverse era.

But as a concept that has only been in the public eye for about a year, there are still some potential crises and challenges in the NFT market. For example, the seemingly convenient online NFT casting process will actually continue to “increase carbon” and cause damage to the ecological environment; under the competition of capital, some speculation will inevitably occur. Some works that seem to be similar, but the prices are dozens or hundreds of times different. Whether they really have such high value is also doubtful. NFTs minted on the blockchain are not absolutely secure. Not long ago, Jay Chou’s “Boring Ape” avatar worth more than 3 million yuan was stolen and changed hands several times within an hour, triggering a heated discussion about the security of NFTs.

Some foreign photographers have shown their talents on the NFT platform, and simply changed their social media names to “NFT photographer XXX”. We are not yet sure how long such an identity can exist. Another fact to face is that not all photographic works are compatible with the NFT world, and works that are successful on the NFT platform are not necessarily linked to the artist’s achievements and influence in the real world. To lead to the NFT world, business management capabilities and personal marketing capabilities are also essential.

Perhaps more importantly, in addition to providing photographers with new ways to monetize, NFTs also serve as a communication platform that allows more photography to be showcased and stimulates diverse conversations within the industry. Especially in the context of the isolation of physical space by the epidemic in the past two years, exchanges and transactions about art have occurred more in virtual space, and NFT has become a good carrier.

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