FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY & NFT – PART I

Monument Valley, USA

BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY INTRODUCES WHAT MIGHT BE SOME DRAMATIC CHANGES IN HOW WE ENJOY, COLLECT AND SELL ART: FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY & NFT

In digitally-savvy Fine Art collectors’ circles, NFTs seem to be all the rage lately; but what are they and can Fine Art photography and NFT get along and thrive? Taking into account the obvious differences, this reminds me a bit of what happened at the advent of digital photography, this time applied to the marketing of Fine Art photography. When digital photography came out, some photographers embraced it wholeheartedly, some thought it was a fad but gave it a try nevertheless, some refused – or delayed – adopting it. The first group thrived, the second did well, the third not so much. There still are photographers today that blame digital, rather than themselves, for not having been able to survive as a business!

The Dolomites Photography Workshop

In the first of this two-part article, I’ll offer you an overview on NFTs, what they are, how do they work and what possibilities they hold. In FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY & NFT – PART II, I’ll discuss Fine Art landscape photography in particular and whether it fits well with the new medium. Let’s start!

WHAT ARE NFTS?
To examine the possibilities of NFTs and see what they mean for us Fine Art photographers, let’s have a quick look at what they are first. NFT means Non-Fungible Token. Fungible assets are things like cash, silver and gold; non-fungible ones are things like diamonds, sculptures, paintings – or, in our case, Fine Art photographs. The token, in this case, is a digital token stored on the blockchain. The blockchain is the concept behind decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and, most importantly for NFT, Ethereum. Not all blockchains currently support NFTs; at this time, Ethereum is the most widely adopted blockchain for NFTs (see NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS on Ethereum for more info).

Cinque Terre & Tuscany Photography Workshop

HOW TO GET INTO THE NFT WORLD
Despite all the digital-cloak-and-dagger images of hackers wearing hoodies and working in the dark conjured by words such as cryptocurrencies and the like, entering the NFT world is actually not as complex as it might sound. First, you’ll need to select your blockchain; I recommend Ethereum. Second, you’ll need to select a marketplace; I am on Foundation (see my profile here: VIERI BOTTAZZINI ON FOUNDATION), but OpenSea, Rarible, Superrare, or any other will do. Third, you’ll need to open a cryptocurrency wallet; I use MetaMask. Fourth, you’ll need to register on your marketplace of choice; rather than the usual process of creating usernames & password, just linking your wallet is enough.

Once you are registered, you can create and update your profile, start collecting NFTs and develop your community. To be able to create your own NFTs, or “mint” them as the process is called, some added steps might be required to qualify you as creator, depending on which platform you’ll choose. Since there are many different platforms, I recommend you’ll check for requirements on the one of your choice.

WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU BUY AN NFT
So, what “buying an NFT” does actually mean? In short, it means buying certified ownership of a digital good. This could be a single edition, as in the case of my NFTs (and of my Fine Art prints, for that matter); or, one of many editions; or a collection, or part of one; and so on.

As with Fine Art prints, in most cases you won’t purchase the copyright to the work. As is the case with many pieces of visual art, you won’t buy exclusive access to the digital asset (think loaning your Picasso to a museum, where anyone can see it).

In practice, what this mean is that while you’ll buy the one and only unique NFT showing ownership of the artwork, there still might be thousands of copies of it on the internet for others to see.

Using physical limited edition Fine Art prints as an example, owning an NFT means owning a single copy Limited Edition of a photograph, certified and signed by the author; the fact that there might be millions of printed posters around, all featuring that very same image, won’t make your signed, certified photo any less valuable. On the other hand, the better known the photo, the more your NFT’s value will be high.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FOR BUYERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS?
When it comes to selling digital art and assets, NFT has the potential to be truly revolutionary, both on the creator’s and on the buyer’s side.

So far, Fine Art photographers could sell “physical” versions of their art, e.g. Fine Art prints, in more or less limited editions; or, they could sell digital rights to it, e.g. licensing their images. In recent years, however, the market for selling both tangible and intangible versions of a photographer’s work got very crowded. This saturation made it very difficult for many (or most) photographers to generate enough income from these avenues.

The Fine Art print market is flooded by photographers offering so-called Limited Editions of hundreds of copies, to milk an image to the max. This might be good for the photographer, if they can find buyers believing in their approach, but it definitely is not good for the saleability of such “limited” editions on the secondary market – and therefore for the value of their investments – and ultimately is not good for anyone.

Personally, I decided long ago to offer my Fine Art prints either in Collectors Editions of just one copy, and therefore truly limited, or on unlimited Open Editions clearly advertised as not having any collector’s value (see my PRINT SHOP). Not only I don’t believe in calling an edition of 500 prints Limited and trying to leverage on collectors to buy them, but I actually find it nearly offensive for buyers and collectors. Therefore, NFTs’ approach of unicity completely makes sense to me.

Normandy & Brittany Photography Workshop

Given the abundance on the offer’s side, on the demand’s side with such market saturation comes a stronger push for buyers to go for artists and artworks that would not only be aesthetically to their taste but would also offer surer investment potential. As far as the artists go, this means limiting buys to artists with bigger names. As far as the artworks, this means going for works coming with two things: guarantees of authenticity and scarcity – or, even better, unicity. NFT’s technology take care of the latter, while the openness of access to the platform allows for artists with less fame to their name to be found as well.

Thanks to the structure of blockchain, NFTs by their own nature allow buyers to acquire digital assets that are unique – or scarce, on certain NFT platforms – and thus have a potential for appreciation that “regular” digital works do not, and cannot, have. Artworks, once minted, cannot be modified in any way – only destroyed, before they have been bought. All transactions are recorded. They cannot be undone, erased, modified or misplaced.

In short, thanks to NFTs, artists can now add back value to their digital art, and buyers can buy digital art that is worth investing into. One of the most important aspect of this is the secondary market, as we’ll see in the next chapter.

THE SECONDARY MARKET
The value of any artist is of course determined by the selling prices of their art; however, it is also in large part determined – or at least confirmed – by their saleability and commanded prices on the secondary market. Besides prices, the ease of reselling one artist’s artworks on the secondary market is an important factor. NFTs dramatically changed the secondary market as well.

While not everyone might have tangible art valuable enough to grant them access to Sotheby’s or Christie’s, any buyer or collector can sell their NFTs on the secondary market very easily, technically speaking. This, in turn, can “make” the secondary market for a buyer’s favourite artist, which will make both the art and the artist more valuable in the process.

More, all NFT-related transactions are done in cryptocurrencies, which – thanks to their scarceness – will at least in part gain value due to their level of popularity and therefore desirability. So, the more people will buy and sell NFT art, the more the cryptocurrency the art is based upon will gain value.

This, in turn, will make the art itself more valuable as well, if you consider its value against traditional currency. It might sound like a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but you can consider buying NFTs as something similar to investing in cryptocurrencies – except, NFTs look better.

Last, thanks to the full traceability of all future transaction an artwork will undergo during its lifetime, some marketplaces – such as Foundation, for instance – do recognise a percentage of all secondary market’s sales back to the original creator. This means that sales on the secondary market can be a source of income for the artworks’ creators, thus supporting artists to keep creating new art.

This is something physical art definitely cannot do.

ARE THERE ANY RISKS IN PURCHASING NFTS?
Nothing in life is completely devoid of risks. Purchasing art of any kind, NFT or tangible, is no exception. On the contrary, there always are risks involved, and especially so if one doesn’t know what one is doing or if one is careless. As with any new technology, NFT being relatively unknown to many definitely increases the risk for careless, unaware people to get into troubles. Threading with care is definitely recommended, but then again, I would offer the same advice to people purchasing physical Fine Art photographs as well.

Iceland Photography Workshop

To me, the biggest risk with NFTs is that since anyone can open an account and “mint” their own NFT, there is no guarantee that some crook won’t download an image from the web and use someone else’s work to create an NFT that they will then sell as their own. This is true of any digital work, though, and the only way to avoid that is to buy NFTs from reputable artists.

While there is no guidebook that would completely eliminate all risks, these are my recommendations.

First, I would use a reputable platform and in particular one where creators’ access is regulated and the creator’s role is hard to achieve, rather than a free-for-all NFT marketplace. For instance, Foundation is very selective when it comes to becoming a creator, and so are others; on the contrary, everyone can mint on OpenSea. This doesn’t mean that you can trust every creator on Foundation and should never trust anyone on OpenSea – many creators are on many different platforms, including myself! – but is definitely something to keep in mind.

Second, I would not fall for the idea that NFT creators, since they are moving in the metaverse and are using cryptocurrencies, are therefore good artists only if they use imaginative usernames, show bizarre profile images and hide behind mysterious identities. These kinds of guys might be good artists despite all the theatrics, of course; and many are. However, that doesn’t mean that creators using a “human” name and showing their own faces are not. I for one much prefer to see someone’s creativity displayed in their art, rather than shown in their choice of username and profile pictures.

While I would never say that everyone using imaginative usernames and bizarre profile images are crooks, because they most definitely are not, hiding one’s identity behind a wall could make things easier if one wanted to take advantage of others and of other people’s work. On the other hand, someone using their own names, with a website and an online presence outside of the NFT world and of the NFT marketplace, are much more likely to be using their own work rather than stealing the work of others; they likely are easier to contact and talk to; they likely are people existing in the real world just as they say they do on the web. In short, they likely are people you can trust.

Another possible risk is that of losing your digital art; again, using reputable platforms and platforms based on IPFS would eliminate such risks to a large degree. Of course, keeping your login information safe and backing it up is paramount, to minimize the risk of losing your access, or having your work stolen. That said, let’s not forget that physical art can get lost, ruined and stolen as well, and that while a digital asset – if stored and backed up properly – will last forever and look as good in 100 years as it does now, any print on paper will probably not.

DOWNSIDES OF BLOCKCHAIN
For me, as a nature lover, the main downside of using cryptocurrencies or NFTs is the carbon footprint of blockchain. While this is supposed to change in the near future, with the advent of Ethereum 2, at the moment both minting NFTs and any subsequent transaction related to them require serious computing power. This, in turn, requires a lot of energy. Until power will all come from renewable sources, this is the biggest concern I have in adopting NFTs.

Glencoe & Isle of Skye Photography Workshop

My solution is that of planting 500 trees for any NFT sale over 0.5 ETH, and 250 trees for any sale under that amount; this should offset the carbon impact of minting and selling the artwork one- or two-thousandfold. I do this for any Workshop seat I sell as well, and I have already funded the planting of 13.000 trees so far! I know this is not a global solution to the problem, but at least it gives collectors of my art the guarantee that all NFT artworks they’ll purchase from me are carbon neutral.

The Southwest USA Photography Workshop

CONCLUSIONS
So, what does the advent of NFT means for Fine Art photography? I will discuss what the aesthetics, the creative opportunities and the specific difficulties of marketing NFTs based on Fine Art landscape photography are in my next article. Purely under the point of view of having a new avenue to market our Fine Art to buyers and collectors, I find NFTs to be something with truly revolutionary potential. Sure, care must be exercised both on the artist’s and on the collector’s side. That said, however, NFTs open some amazing possibilities for the democratisation and diffusion of digital art, for the support of creatives worldwide and for the diffusion of art among art lovers; all while honouring and rewarding the creators’ work and preserving the buyers’ investment in their favourite artists.

The Isle Of Arran Photography Workshop

Thanks for reading this article, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?

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