The trend of NFTs has hit the photography community, but what is all the fuss about?

As times change, so do the ways we consume our favorite things. NFTs are a big part of that. And in many ways, it was clear this time would eventually come. The internet changed the way we consume photography. But for many years, we still had the awareness that nothing could compare to a physical print. There was never any real value in a digital image – other than to the platforms that hosted them, until now.

What Are NFTs?

Okay, lets face it, most of us are still trying to understand what an NFT is. And maybe more so, we're trying to understand why some photographers are selling them for up to $20,000!

I can't claim to be an NFT expert, but I will explain them as best as possible, so we're all on the same page.

NFT Stands for Non-fungible token.

Still Confused? So, non-fungible means it cannot be replaced or changed into something else. In basic Terms - and in photography terms - a photographer creates a digital product that carries digital information within it, and that information will always remain the same.

To summarize, an NFT is a unique digital product. Photographers then sell this product to anybody will to pay for it.

My Issues with NFTs

Call me a killjoy, but I find this new form of consumption really sad. I already sigh at the fact that it’s normal for us to consume a majority of photography on the internet. Nothing, in my opinion, comes close to a physical image.

I’ve purchased many prints in my time. Some of them from well-known photographers and others from photographers who I admire. The feeling I get when I receive my print is euphoric. The packaging, texture of the paper, smell, color, and the fact I have a product that I own is amazing!

But now people have a demand for a product that holds no physical value? I pay money for something that exists on the internet? Sure, I may get a nice certificate stating my ownership, but is that really where our standards are?

I have no issue with photographers selling NFTs. If there’s a market for it, power to them. But, I find it sad that the market exists, and society seems to get deeper and deeper into the digital world.

Maybe I’m cynical? I may be refusing to keep up with the times. So, I contacted a photographer who has sold an NFT to see if they can shed more light on it and turn my view into a more positive one.

I contacted fashion photographer Lindsay Adler. She has been selling NFTs and was happy to answer some questions I had.

What attracted you to NFTs in relation to adding them to your photography business?

LA: In the past few years, I added fine art prints to my photography business. I really enjoyed the process and the fact that other people could enjoy and own my artwork. NFTs are an extension of that same concept. I can treat an NFT fundamentally like a digital certificate of authenticity, and those interested in my career and artwork can invest. Furthermore, I have produced cinemagraphs (still/motion hybrids) that previously didn’t have a place to be sold or treated as artwork.

With the rise of NFTs, how do you think the future looks for photographers wanting to sell physical art/prints?

LA: To be honest, I don’t think that print sales will decrease or vary for quite some time. I do think that the art world will like to pair a print with an NFT of the artwork, so you own the NFT as well as a physical representation of that art (both in limited edition).

What advice would you give to a photographer thinking about selling NFTs?

LA: Be authentic to yourself and have something unique to say. Don’t just create what you think will sell– create something that has a unique message, vision, or approach to the medium. Also, don’t put out a ton of different NFTs at once– scarcity is part of fine art and it shouldn’t appear as though your artwork is too plentiful (or not selling!).

I’m Warming to the Idea

Okay, so after speaking with Adler, I do see some value in this new trend of art consumption – especially when it comes to cinemagraphs. And we can’t ignore the fact that a person may purchase an NFT to sell it for more money further down the line. If the market is there, it’s there, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

But should photographers start rushing to make their own NFTs?

The Harsh Reality

When we hear numbers like $20,000 floating around, it’s easy for artists to say, “I want a piece of that!” But high-selling NFTs are rare, and for the most part an NFT goes for $100 or less.

A Canadian concept artist, Kimberley Parker, did a deep dive into the sales made by artists who were offering NFTs. In her final study, Parker wrote on the topic of sales:

“These numbers do not show the democratization of wealth thanks to a technological revolution. They show an acutely minuscule number of artists making a vast amount of wealth off a small number of sales while the majority of artists are being sold a dream of immense profit that is horrifically exaggerated. Hiding this information is manipulative, predatory, and harmful, and these NFT sites have a responsibility to surface all this information transparently. Not a single one has.”
Kimberley Parker

You can see the full study here.

The reason why Parker’s quote is important is because it costs to create an NFT. And sites that allow you to create them are selling a dream of high demand – when the reality is, that’s just not true.

So, maybe I have nothing to worry about after all? Maybe all of this is one big fad that allowed a handful of photographers to grab headlines and make a ton of cash. But whatever it is, I’ll never stop the fight to remain living in reality.

Photography has been devalued over the decades, not just in terms of labor but also in consumption. A print is much more than a piece of paper on the wall. Humans value touch: it’s part of our nature. And hopefully, we will remember that and keep giving the physical photograph the importance it deserves.