Ok ok – we get it. As long-time 35mmc readers and occasional authors, we know it’s pretty rare to see the word “blockchain” or acronym “NFT” on here – and for good reason. Hear us out though: this is a real question, from us to you, the reader. We genuinely don’t know the answer, and this makes asking it quite interesting. It’s like shooting a Lomography film for the first time, or trying out that vintage camera you bought for steal. The outcome will either be great or terrible but either way it will be fun.
(Editor’s note: this article has generated a lot of interesting and healthy discussion in the comments section below. If you are interested in this topic, the comments also include links to further reading on some of the positives and indeed some of the risks of getting involved in NFTs, not least the potential environmental impact)
It would have been hard to miss the recent sale of a jpeg file, by the artist Beeple, for $69 million. A jpeg. For sixty-nine million dollars. What!? While there is a chance that the sale was actually a publicity stunt, it’s still a LOT of money. If you’re anything like those of us in the Pixels and Grain photography collective, the opportunity – however fleeting, vague, confusing and/or technically tricky – of a new opportunity to sell our photos and offset the cost of our film and vintage camera habits was enticing. Hence the question.
Our journey into the NFT world has been pretty interesting so far and it’s not over yet. In this article we wanted to share what it took to create our own NFTs, why we did, and what the benefits might be to this community.
What is an NFT?
Before we get into that question we need to cover a few fundamentals. Not sure what an NFT is? It stands for “non-fungible token”, which is just a fancy acronym that means something digital (like a jpeg file of a scanned photo) that is unique.
Fungible items are like a box full of fresh rolls of HP5: each roll has exactly the same value and they are perfectly interchangeable. Any of those rolls of HP5 could be freely exchanged with any other roll in the box and they would all have exactly the same value to a photographer.
If, however, you took one of those rolls and made photos with it, then that roll instantly becomes non-fungible. It is now unique compared to every other roll of HP5 ever made in the history of the world. Its value now must be determined solely based on its own merits. A non-fungible token (NFT), like a roll of used HP5, is a digital object that is verifiably unique. That’s all.
Are we evangelical blockchain junkies?
No, we’re not. Full disclosure: Pixels and Grain is an exclusive group solely comprised of non-famous amateur photographers based in Australia. We claim no special expertise in NFTs, blockchain or any of these other concepts. Think of this article exactly like most of the 35mmc camera or filmstock reviews: we find this stuff interesting, we’ve dedicated some time and resources to learning about it, but we have no formal qualifications or technical expertise in the area. Just like choosing whether or not to re-skin your beloved vintage camera, rely entirely on your own discretion here. This article does not constitute advice.
Technical Specs, Metaphor and Simile
Many readers of 33mmc.com (us included) seem to enjoy technical specs and getting into the details. In this article, however, we’re not going to get into all the technical blockchain stuff. It’s a huge topic and there are some great primers if that’s what you’re interested in. Most people talk about the blockchain in metaphors and similes, and that is a useful (slightly limited, but useful) level on which to think about things.
Before we jump into the what and how of NFTs, let’s talk briefly why we’re taking the plunge.
Why consider selling analog photographs as digital NFTs?
If you’re a professional and/or famous photographer who wants to sell your prints, then the barriers to selling actual, physical prints are often worth surmounting. For amateur hobbyists however, there’s no way we are going to ever sell enough prints to make the effort worth anything more than as just another aspect of our hobby.
Selling online, however, to a huge new audience who might have an appetite for unique, digitally-signed photographs… well if that helps us buy a few extra rolls of film without getting in trouble with our partners then that sounds great!
There are other more serious reasons too though. Those of us who choose to share our photography for fun almost always do it for free. Instagram, websites, competitions. There’s no need to make money from this (mostly), but the photography we create does have value. Currently that value is to us as creators (though the joy in creating), to recording history (that of public events or even just our family and friends) and in the pleasure it brings people who see it. Could our amateur film photography also have monetary value? We think it could, and that if the barriers to printing and physically selling our photos are removed, then it might.
The big over-arching idea here is that digital platforms, for all the terrible things they have brought us (and there are many), also create opportunities. Many of us are online sharing our work anyway – is it really such a big step to invite people to buy our photos if it suits both us and them? Naturally the market is likely to be modest, but unless analog / vintage camera photographers get out there and consistently offer work to be bought then there won’t be a market.
While we’re not quite the first people to think of selling our film photos as NFTs, we may well be the first to ever offer a collection of NFT photos based on a zine, and either way there are precious few people giving it a go. This article is an attempt to show one way to do it and to see if as a community we might choose to make this something more than it currently is.
The potential value of selling NFT film photos
Most of the rest of this article is details about how to create an NFT. If you don’t care about that, but are interested in our question – please go and have a look at the NFT auction we have just set up. The auction is being launched with this article, and before you are filled with cynical thoughts about why that might be let’s be transparent about the reasons:
- All new markets start with a sale – that’s just how they work. So in order to create a market someone has to sell an analog / vintage camera photography NFT. Imagine what your photo NFTs could be worth is there is a strong precedent out there already.
- Proving that a celebrity or famous photographer can sell one of these does not create a market that most people can participate in. We’re not famous, infamous or anything other than passionate amateur photographers. If we can sell an NFT photo then anyone
- It’s not completely true to say that all four of the photos we are auctioning off are film photos. We say analog / vintage camera photos because some of them were made with digital cameras using vintage lenses. In the auction we have a 35mm and a large-format image, but also one from a Leica M8 and one from a Leica M10-D. This seems to us to be representative of a good portion of the 35mmc community. Again – if these images sell, then there is a precedent set for everyone in the community.
- We don’t want to sell our NFTs to the existing film photography community – we want to create new market amongst people who think it’s reasonable to pay $69m for a jpeg, or who wish they could. To get some kind of attention we need a network effect of people sharing and talking about analog / vintage camera photography NFTs – if you want to.
- Finally, it would be typical in situations like this to donate the proceeds of any sale (if there is one) to a charity. We’re not going to do that because we’re trying to set a precedent, and we think that the default should be that artists are paid for their work. If you want to donate your work or income to charity that’s generous and amazing, but let’s not make it the only option for selling your photos in a social acceptable way.
What are the risks?
For an enthusiastic excoriation of NFTs you can read a thoughtful critique here. To our group, it seems like there are four main risks, though there could be more:
- Spending a bit of money upfront (roughly USD$100 the way we did it) and not earning any from sales.
- Spending your time and energy on something that doesn’t work out as you expect
- The environmental impact of blockchains (mostly electricity consumption)
- Looking like an ass in public
As film photographers risks (1) and (2) are, within reason, no deterrents to us. Risk (3) is a real issue, though the exact amount of energy used (or depending on your perspective, wasted) by blockchains is hard to calculate and a bit controversial. There are also environmental benefits in reducing the paper, chemicals and fuel that go into creating and shipping physical prints. Thankfully the Ethereum blockchain, used for NFTs, is transitioning to a much lower-energy model soon that is supposed to ameliorate much of the environmental impact.
As for (4) – well, fair enough. Ever tried street photography?
What is a blockchain?
The most famous blockchain at the moment is Bitcoin (the Leica M3 of blockchains – classic, elegant if that’s your thing, very expensive and has plenty of limitations), but there are hundreds of them out there. Different blockchains are a bit like the difference between colour reversal, colour negative and black and white film stocks. Superficially they all look similar and do similar things, but really they are very different and mostly not compatible with each other. NFTs, for example, don’t work on Bitcoin. They mostly work on the second most famous blockchain: Ethereum. This is the Cameradactyl of blockchains – much more technically advanced than Bitcoin, capable of doing many more things and also a bit of a niche at the moment.
A blockchain is a method of storing identical copies of secure, verified, publicly-accessible data on hundreds or thousands of computers all around the world. If that’s all you want to know about them, then you can happily skip the next four paragraphs.
These thousands of identical copies is why blockchains are called decentralised. Most of the internet is currently pretty centralised. This means that each website you visit lives on just a couple of computers. Those computers are connected to each other via the Internet and this is how you visit them. The problem is, however, that if the computers that have all the articles on 35mmc.com (for example) break or are shut down then 35mmc.com stops existing.
In photographic terms, the current Internet is a bit like your photography group’s slide collections. Each person has one, they are beautiful and can be shown to lots of people, but each person’s collection only exists in their home. People from all over the world can come to your homes and look at your slides, but if they are damaged or lost then the images are gone forever.
A blockchain is like creating thousands of identical copies of your slide collection and posting them all around the world so that they exist in thousands of places at once. Not only can anyone go and see your slide collection anywhere it exists, but if you lose all your slides you just go get a copy from someone else who has them. Your images now cannot be lost, stolen, censored or damaged – they will be safe for as long as everyone who has a copy keeps them.
If you’re already thinking “why would anyone keep my slides?”, “how could someone looking at my slides in another country know they were really mine?”, or “what happens if I take more pictures – how do I make sure all my slide collections around the world stay current?” – then you’re already thinking about some of the issues that blockchain technology advocates say they’ve solved. We’re not experts on this stuff – there seems to be a mix of financial incentives and ideology that keeps these blockchains running.
What are photographic NFTs?
For photographers, NFTs are essentially a way to use blockchain technology to “sign” a digital photography file. Unlike a screen-shot or an image you simply download, it’s this “signature” by the author that makes it an NFT and therefore unique. The “signature” lives on the blockchain – copied hundreds or thousands of times around the world so that anyone can go and see it for themselves at any time. Most NFT signatures live on the Ethereum blockchain.
Exactly like a signed fine-art print, if you own an NFT you are the only person who can own it. You can display it, share it with friends and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you are the only one who owns this specific piece of art. If you’re lucky your fine art print will become more valuable over time, but this only happens to a few people. Lots of people buy prints anyway.
NFTs are pretty much the wild west at the moment when it comes to copyright and intellectual property, but if you’re an artist creating an NFT of your own work then it seems like there is no issue – just like if you made an original print of one of your photos. Also like a print, you’re not selling the copyright to the image – you’re just selling a print.
How do you make an NFT?
We’re going to mix metaphor and practical advice here. In order to create a unique digital photo, signed by you, the steps are a bit similar to selling something on eBay or Amazon. Here’s how it breaks down in comparison to conventional photography:
|In NFT terms||In photography terms|
|1. Create a digital version of your photo (a file, usually jpeg).||1. Create a physical version of your photo (a print).|
|2. Register an account with an NFT marketplace.
a. This will involve buying some cryptocurrency and getting a crypto wallet. It sounds scarier than it is – more below.
b. When you sell your NFT the funds go to your crypto wallet.
|2. Register an account with a print photography marketplace.
a. This could be a gallery, your own website, a shop, café, eBay – whatever.
b. When you sell your print, the funds go to your account – PayPal or your bank account or similar.
|3. Use your new account and crypto to sign (“mint”) your file and turn it into an NFT.||3. Sign your print with pencil or pen|
|4. Put it up for sale||4. Put it up for sale.|
It’s pretty similar, broadly speaking.
Cryptocurrency and Wallets
We’ll skip the part where you digitise your photo to create a file, that’s a given. Signing up for an account with an NFT marketplace is also straightforward – just like creating an account on social media or your latest online subscription.
The hardest step for us was figuring out the cryptocurrency and wallets. As a clique, the world of crypto has a lot in common with film photography. There is a lot of jargon, people feel very strongly about the space, and the barriers to entry seem way higher than they really are.
If you’ve ever given a friend or relative a modern film camera, loaded with film, and told them to “just go for it – it’s fun!”, then you know exactly how crypto natives feel when they talk about coins and wallets. Once you know how to turn it on and where the shutter button is you’re pretty much set.
In short, a wallet is exactly what it says it is. It’s usually a particular kind of digital account that holds a cryptocurrency balance. You can pay for things from it and you can add money to it when you like. A wallet is basically PayPal for your cryptocurrency – and depending on where you live, you might even be able to buy crypto with PayPal or Apple Pay or your credit card or similar.
Of course there are always little details that make it seem harder. You know – just like with that film camera when your friend asks you what the PASM dial does and is it ok that they just put it on “M”?.
With crypto, you can’t always buy cryptocurrency and put it directly into your wallet. Just like changing US dollars to Euros, you have to go to a company that exchanges regular money (also called “fiat money”) for cryptocurrency. Helpfully, these are called “exchanges”. You might have heard of Coinbase – it was the first cryptocurrency exchange to float on the US stock market in April this year.
In Australia, where we live, banks and credit cards view (probably reasonably) cryptocurrency purchases as high-risk for fraud. That meant that we had to use a bank transfer to move Australian dollars to a crypto exchange and it took 24 hours for the funds to clear the first time. Then on the exchange website, we put an order in for ETH. You can read about ETH here [link]. Suffice it to say, ETH is the name of the currency used on the Ethereum blockchain (each blockchain has it’s own current with different names – BTC, ETH, XRP, ADA etc) and that’s what most people use for NFTs.
Let’s recap. What we have done now is used a money exchange to convert regular money into a cryptocurrency called ETH and we have a place to keep that cryptocurrency, which is called a wallet. Everything is done digitally and online. If at this point you’re wondering about security and the possibility of losing your money – yes, absolutely. It’s like internet banking the first time. There are risks. You get used to them. Some people get burnt but most people don’t.
Minting the NFT
It’s finally time to sign your photo and put it up for auction! This is the good part. Just like developing film though – unless you do it yourself, it costs a bit of money. To “mint” or “sign” the image you have to pay someone to take your signature and include it in the blockchain. This is the action that makes it secure.
Remember those slide collections we mailed out all over the world? Paying to mint an NFT on the blockchain is like paying the rent on your slide collection storage. You only pay it once and that’s it forever – there are no ongoing costs. It does cost money though, and by money of course we mean cryptocurrency.
There are dozens of ways to mint NFTs but the one we chose was through Opensea.io. It’s one of the oldest and largest NFT marketplaces. It’s cheaper than some of the other platforms, less exclusive but also a lower barrier to entry. Once you pay your cryptocurrency from your wallet, your NFT has been minted and you’re ready to sell.
Now we’re back in familiar territory. You can sell your image for a fixed price or have an auction – whatever you choose. With a few exceptions, your buyer will need cryptocurrency to buy your photo – but that’s the same in any market around the world. You have to pay in a currency the market accepts. That’s it!
If you’ve made it this far – what do you think? Please visit the auction and have a look. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, say hi on Instagram and/or visit our auction site and share it around. Who knows what will happen!? We certainly don’t, but we’ll send an update when the auction is done, and we will follow the conversation closely. This is a first for all of us, so please be kind…
About the C-scapes auction
We’ve chosen four images to auction off, aiming for a representative collection of the types of images that people in the community might take. We’re also experimenting with a feature to make it more likely that people will want to purchase all of the images – have a look at the auction to see what we decided to try, and let us know what you think!
These images are from our C-scapes zine. “C-scapes” is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was made in 2020. It documents some of the small moments of beauty that persist even in the midst of the worst peacetime disaster in centuries. This collection represents an historic period of time by looking at the natural world, our communities and the power of collaboration during adversity.
Author Credit: Christopher, Bill, Alan and Will on behalf of the Pixels and Grain photography collective
Auction link | Visit our Pixels and Grain website! | Or- have a look at our the zine that inspired this whole adventure: C-scapes
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31 thoughts on “NFTs…? – Can You Sell Analog/Vintage Camera Photos on a Blockchain? – By ‘Pixels and Grain’”
Hey, great write up. I was considering doing something similar a while ago but ultimately decided against it because I felt strange using something so digital yet marketing it as analog.
If you have any good ideas beyond selling art in relation to blockchain and analog photography then I would love to help out. I’m a full stack web developer currently working on blockchain and ethereum development too. I would love to build something awesome combining both blockchain and analog but coming up with an innovative idea for it.
Thank you! I would love to work with you on something – but I don’t have any ideas at the moment. Let’s hear from everyone else and see if we can think of something : )
This sort of article does worry me. This whole NFT thing is chock full of misleading hype, and to an extent your article might contribute to that. There’s a transition from an early implication that your photo is on the blockchain, to the later perhaps more accurate suggestion that the signature is on the blockchain… but that’s in the technical section that few might read.
As I understand it, the digital object we’re really concerned about here (presumably a JPEG or TIFF from a scanned or digitally captured image) is NEVER on the blockchain. That digital object is hosted somewhere on the Internet. The Non-fungible token is effectively a pointer to that hosted object, presumably with some sort of contract that says, Chris made this, and perhaps also, Jim now owns this. So far, well and good, but the digital object can only be accessed by Jim as long as the object continues to be hosted. Who’s paying for that? Quite a few such hosting companies appear to have folded, or otherwise dropped the object, so that buyers’ NFTs end up pointing at… nothing!
This leaves aside two other issues (of many), first that the decentralised nature of most blockchains is way over-stated. The economics of crypto mining have driven control into fewer and fewer hands, to the extent that a single-digit number of organisations could effectively control some blockchains. Secondly, you rather dismiss the climate impacts of crypto, already consuming as much energy as some countries. One of the articles you point to says “…an NFT sale on Ethereum can result in the consumption of as much as 8.7 megawatt-hours of electricity, more than twice what an average British household consumes in one year”!
Oh yes, Ethereum promises it’s changing from proof of work (the climate-damaging approach that pretty much all blockchains use) to “something better”, Real Soon Now. I’ll certainly wait until that materialises and has been used for a while before I dip in to NFTs.
I’d recommend DSHR’s blog for good posts on this kind of security related thing (he’s also the author of LOCKSS, Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe, so he definitely knows what he’s talking about). This piece might be interesting to you: https://blog.dshr.org/2021/04/nfts-and-web-archiving.html .
Sorry that I’ve sounded a bit down on the idea. Hype, pyramid scams, pump and dump schemes etc always worry me, and it seems more likely than not that NFTs fit in that general class. Nevertheless, I do applaud you for trying this out. I see some healthy signs of scepticism in your article, and I look forward to further articles on how the whole process has gone, and what you feel about it.
(PS, I am NOT an expert on crypto, or NFTs, but I do know quite a lot about the issues involved in sustaining digital objects over the long term, having in the past been the Director of the UK’s Digital Curation Centre for 5 years.)
Thank you for such a thoughtful comment – we really appreciate it. This is exactly the kind of conversation we were hoping to have, i.e: are NFTs real, are there real opportunities here, what are those opportunities (if any) or if not – why not, what are the problems?
I take your points about decentralisation and the environment. Decentralisation is why we’ve stuck to Ethereum rather than a cheaper, smaller (more centralised) chain, despite the cost. There are still issues with Ethereum but hopefully layer 2 and Eth 2 / proof-of-stake will both deliver on their promises and that includes environmental ones. The latest timeline for that change seems to be end of 2021 / early 2022 – but who knows really.
On the other hand, the issue of NFT permanence is a huge one. The excellent article you linked to references IPFS as an option, and also points out a lot of issues with it. We’ve chosen to use Opensea.io for the auction which has longevity in the space, and we’ve also put our NFT files on Arweave as our alternate solution to IPFS. It’s not perfect and there are risks that the links will break if the Arweave project fails, but I think it’s an honest attempt to grapple with the issue and seems credible. (I’m 100% no expert on either Arweave or IPFS – that’s just my impression from reading around). Given your expertise in digital curation I wonder what you think!? Actually – I have many questions anyway about all our digital photography files. How do you store yours?
The final point about permanence is actually one of the reasons we were interested in film photography and NFTs in the first place. At the end of the day the photos are tangible assets that underpin the NFT, and that is (almost) unique at this point in the market. Most of the NFTs currently sold are purely digital art or gaming tokens. Of course some of our images are also digital, but they are still ultimately intended to be printed and displayed. If a buyer ever lost a link for whatever reason, the photographer could replace that digital object with a signed print and that would still have value. It may not make sense when you follow the logic underpinning NFTs through in the first place, but anyway I think that makes film photography a particularly interesting NFT proposition. Really though, at this point it’s all just exploration, discussion and supposition – hence the article!
Thank you again for taking the time to engage with the discussion. We will definitely give an update on what happens with the auction, and even it’s absolutely nothing – at the very least we hope it’s useful / interesting for the 35mmc community to have some exposure to these ideas and conversations.
I am 71 years old and haven’t got a clue, what NFT and Blockchain is! I have shot loads of film on numerous cameras, since the 1060’s. Unfortunately. Your introduction, might as well be in Servo Croat,. Please make articles legible for us morons.
Sorry! We get it – this isn’t for everyone. Come back for tomorrow’s article on 35mmc.com – it’s bound to make more sense.
I have many thought on this but Chris has covered most of them already. I would like to add comments mostly for sellers.
NFT seems like a great scheme for artists to sell their wares and there’s been some particular sales highlighted in the media. They are special cases. For the average seller, beware.
You are effectively selling a pointer to where the item currently lives. Do you want to have to maintain that item in that location until the end of time? How much is that going to cost you? What happens to your reputation as a seller when that item is no longer available?
For buyers, make sure you take a copy and keep it safe if you want it long term. But don’t show it to anyone or they can save a copy too. All you really own is a pointer to something that might still exist.
It’s a pyramid scheme that seems interesting at first glance and will make a few people rich but is unlikely to be viable in the longterm.
Thanks Peter. I think the issue of where the item lives (usually not on the blockchain) is a real problem. I wonder if you’ve looked at the permanent storage solutions like Arweave, and if so what you think of them?
Just to flesh out the issue of seller obligations – most of the auction platforms host the files themselves – for example Opensea.io hosts the photos that we’ve uploaded, plus we’ve added them to the permaweb so they will exist as long as Opensea.io exists (one of the oldest players in the space) and as long as the Arweave project works (currently aiming for 200+ years of online storage). There is no ongoing obligation to us to host the file at all – that’s been covered. Both those solutions can break of course, but there is redundancy and we’re not relying on our own resources any more.
I’m not sure what you mean about the issue of “not showing it to anyone or they can save a copy too”. Anyone can screen-shot the images – just like you take take photos of prints in a gallery. In exactly the same way as a picture taken in a gallery though, a screenshot of a photo does not mean that you own it. It’s the connection between the digital signature, which lives on the blockchain, and the file, which as you say should live somewhere permanent, that makes the ownership valid. That cannot be copied – the idea is that it’s as permanent as the blockchain and your storage solution. Think about physical signed prints and the comparision is still valid. What is a seller’s obligation to make sure the buyer stores their photo in archival conditions? What is the seller’s obligation if the buyer damages the print with light, mould or water? What if the buyer loses the print? There are no obligations on the seller in those cases, and the same goes for NFTs.
These are extremely early days but there are solutions to these issues proposed. I would gently challenge your assertion that it’s all a pyramid scheme. Why do you say that? The sale of bulk-created digital images that cost nothing to make and sell for thousands of dollars is definitely suspect. The sale of legitimate work (music, art, photos) by the creators of that art seems different. I think of the space like very early eBay. It’s the wild west, uncomfortable to use and there are scams around, but as the space matures I wonder what will happen. We don’t know of course, but this discussion is fun to have and interesting. As a group we’re fundamentally curious and experimental and this meets both those criteria.
Thank you for your thoughts!
Thanks for your reply, it’s an interesting but complex topic.
Regarding permanent storage, yes it’s an interesting problem. I haven’t looked at any potential solutions. I wouldn’t trust a promise that a file will be stored safely for 200 years. Also, I would not trust that the technology to view a jpeg file will still exist in future? File standards come and go, support for them gets dropped over time. I have plenty of backups of files that are now readable (available and uncorrupted) but are effectively unusable because viewers no longer support that version of the standard. It’s not all necessarily backward compatible so even if the file does still exist will may be able to view it? It makes me wonder about the need for reformatting etc in future. Do the NFT websites discuss that? I haven’t looked (yet).
Re not showing anyone, I’ve seen people post a copy of the art they just paid for as an NFT linked image. Anyone can then save a copy. Sure those people wouldn’t have a receipt but does having a receipt really mean anything. That’s what I meant, don’t show anyone. It makes me wonder about the point of it all.
Re Pyramid/Ponzi schemes, I think it was TOM answered that already. I’m in agreement with that reply and so won’t add further comment (yet) 🙂
All that said, perhaps it’s another means of supporting a favourite artist, a bit like Patreon. I’m not sure the economics quite work due to the costs pushing prices up. When you said images generated for no cost and sell for thousands, it made me wonder, but really there is a commission applied by the agent, so are they really zero cost? I need to read up on it and check some numbers to actually understand the costs of selling, but it seems the costs are a bit high to make it a competitor for things like Patreon.
I’ve seen a couple of people call NFTs a pyramid scheme now. Can anyone explain how/why that would be the case? A lot of this goes over my head, but I understand the concept of a pyramid scheme and I can’t see how that applies here…?
The lads here have paid their hundred bucks to join the scheme and now they need to sell a token that points to a web page that hosts a copy of a scan of their photograph in order to make their ‘money’ back. If they want to create more NFTs to make more ‘money’ they need to spend more. It’s a pyramid scheme because the folks charging for all these transactions are taking real cash out of the system while inflating the value of the coins within the blockchain. If the value of the coins collapses the people who really lose out are the last ones to have joined the scheme. Their coins are worth nothing, and when they try to claim their ‘art’ they find out they own a token on a fancy database that says they own nothing.
This is a great discussion and thank you for adding this comment. I fundamentally agree that your first sentence summarises the way most NFTs work at the moment. I wonder why you put the word ‘money’ in quotation marks though? ‘Money’ makes it sound fake – but we spent a real $100! If we can sell these photos then we can make real money from them – we’ve been very upfront about that point and that is why we’re curious about the opportunities here. Spending money up front to create a product then trying to sell it for profit is pretty unremarkable. Certainly not a scam.
The issue, of course, is the product and the platform. The platforms are making a ton of money and most creators aren’t – that’s all laid out in the article we linked to under “risks”.
It’s here: https://thatkimparker.medium.com/most-artists-are-not-making-money-off-nfts-and-here-are-some-graphs-to-prove-it-c65718d4a1b8
Again, that seems pretty common when you look at places like Blurb, Amazon self-publishing etc etc etc – most creators struggle to make money, and most amateur photographers just give away their photos on Instagram. So while I agree it’s a risk, I’m not sure it’s a pyramid scheme.
So far, then, we have creators paying to make a product and platforms profiting off people’s belief they can sell things. Very normal.
The product and the coins are two different issues, as they are both new and untested.
The product we’ve discussed above. It needs to live somewhere permanent. There are solutions to this issue that are untested but seem plausible.
One of the major issues when discussing the product is the way people imagine they will be held and used. The two common scenarios at present are paying millions of dollars for celebrity faff, or paying hundreds of dollars for digital game tokens or cryptokitties or something. What we’re discussing though, is photography – specifically photos made by non-famous people. How much can these possibly be worth? There’s an aspect here of supporting emerging artists that is more like the Patreon model than the Beeple model. If someone overseas wants to support a person’s photography – say buy buying one of our photos (or your photos) but doesn’t want you to ship them a print – they really have no option other than making a donation. Well – once the environmental issues are solved – what about buying an NFT? Especially if it lives on the permaweb. It’s a new kind of transaction and it might suit some people. Might it not?
The coins themselves are completely different. Yes, they are highly volatile, highly speculative and largely untested in the real world. A few, however, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, do propose real-world uses that go beyond simple speculation. These are in total contrast to something like Dogecoin, which really has no foundation underpinning it at all and is identical to gambling. The thing is that you can exchange coins for money and vice versa. There’s no need to hold them and pray. Just sell your product for whatever you want and then exchange the value into your local currency.
Without going into the philosophy around if money can ever be considered real I put ‘money’ in quotes because, despite the name, I do not consider cryptocurrency to be a currency in any real sense. It’s an energy-intensive investment vehicle that relies on a steady influx of actual currency and computer calculations to keep the value up. NFTs are an additional layer to the bottom of the cryptocurrency pyramid. All power to your elbow on trying to sell a token that points to your work on there but don’t bet the farm on it.
Looking at the China news today and the subsequent value crash tells me everything I need to know. Did your art just get devalued or the token you were given in exchange for it?
Thank you! I think we’re pretty much on the same page here. The tokens / “coins” are not yet currency (though they could be in time) but it is pretty easy to exchange coins for “real” money. I guess my take is that it’s a bit like your house price. You exchange money for a house, which means you own something of value, but when you want to exchange that back into money you are exposed to market forces and your asset may have appreciated or depreciated. Same with NFTs – but the market is much more volatile. Certainly tokens are not a safe store of value as yet so if you do sell a photo and you want to keep the money then best cash out into fiat (“real”) money asap.
I think though, one of the aspects of NFTs that appealed to us has been that the costs to the seller are relatively low. To sell a physical signed print or zine at the moment (and I appreciate the comparison is not perfect for reasons of permanence that we discussed in other replies) is pretty expensive to the photographer. You need to either print-on-demand, ship it to yourself, sign it, then ship to the customer OR you have to hold stock.
To offer an NFT (digitally-signed file) to an audience who already likes and is interested in NFTs is not very expensive really – it cost us about $25 / each up front. There’s no further costs no matter how many other photos we offer. There will be costs incurred if there is a sale and there are traps there for the unwary, but at least you’re at the point of a sale for a minimal outlay. That’s not prohibitive in my book – and no, I DEFINITELY would not bet the farm on this. No way. Agree with you completely on that.
The final point here is why have this discussion now, when so many issues remain with the technology? There are a few reasons:
1. It’s relevant – there is lots of talk about NFTs now, so people are interested
2. Solutions to the issues of environmental impact and permanence are coming – sooner or later – and it’s nice to look at the problems so we can, as a community, be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the solutions as they emerge
3. The traps and risks are real – and we should talk about them so that people don’t accidentally bet the farm on this stuff.
Thanks for replying : )
Crypto currencies rely on people sustaining the value of that currency by belief that they will make a profit if they buy and sell it. Although we’ve seen Bitcoin/Ethereum gain ‘value’ through this process there’s every chance in the future that a cryptocurrency could crash. So only people who get in, sell at a profit and get out are safe, like early investors in a pyramid scheme. If you add how much more difficult Bitcoin is to mine now compared to early on in it’s cycle you can add another simililarity.
When people talk about NFT’s on top of that, minting NFTs is a greater set cost with no guaranteed return. Of course, there are profits to be made – it isn’t impossible to sell big – but the gold rush of NFTs is dying down. So the people selling entry to the NFT club are the only people guaranteed to make money (digital shovels!). What’s Ponzi like about this is that in reality returns are diminishing, but the dream of NFT (get rich quick) is being sold to all comers by gatekeepers – who only charge a small fee with the promise of great reward.
There’s an argument that any currency relies on trust, and all currencies can fail. This is true – money is a mass suspension of belief, this piece of paper stands in for value, says the US Treasury/Queen, and we take that as given every day. But no-one is telling me that I have to pay to play, or adding an extra level of complexity by switching currency format in the hope that my luck holds and that someone else can carry the can when I cash out. Also, we can judge the environmental cost of commerce via the transaction. The environmental cost of calculating a blockchain has the potential to snowball as the calculations become more complex. A faint reassurance of ‘we’re working on it, it’ll be fine’ doesn’t really cut it for me.
Interesting, thanks Tom!
Thanks Tom. I think the big picture is that you’re right, certainly historically (ie: crypto’s only value was what people believed it to be) but these days there are real-world uses coming in which changes the market. People talk about “Web 3.0” which is a really interesting idea that has real-world implications way beyond money gambling / speculation. That’s all I really know about it and high levels of skepticism seem pretty reasonable – but there’s probably something useful hiding under all the hype and nonsense.
No doubt there are a huge cohort of people trying to “get rich quick” off NFTs – but that group certainly aren’t writing conversation-starter articles on 35mmc : )
I think we can agree the environmental concerns are real. Much like in the real world, these seem to be being ignored and addressed across a wide spectrum from “she’ll be right” through to “credible plan to address them”. My opinion is that Ethereum has a credible plan that is coming soon – but I could be wrong. Skepticism is also warranted and I agree with you on that.
I’m not sure though that I agree that “we can judge the environmental cost of commerce via the transaction” under the current system. Again – in what manner are all our supermarkets, Amazon, eBay, etc transparent and accountable for their environmental impacts? Variably. If we could all just transition to renewable energy then we could do alot of things – especially blockchain – without much impact at all.
Anyway – I think we’re all pretty close in these comments so far. Skeptical and curious enough to learn a bit – clearly. We’ve fallen out on different sides of “is this worth it” – but that’s ok. The only thing Pixels and Grain have done is give it some light by putting an experiment out there for discussion. This is great!
Let’s keep talking.
There’s nothing behind bitcoin either. It’s ‘value’ is inflated by hype and artificial scarcity. Sure it’s hard & costly (in electricity and environmental impact) to create each new one but it’s the artificial limit on the number of tokens that makes them scarce. Multiply the number of bitcoins by the supposed value of them, there isn’t that much actual cash in the system. It’s just trading and speculation, It all feels too much like the tulip craze & the tech bubble. FOMO leading people to make irrational decisions about perceived value.
Sure… but there’s nothing much to gold either other than the fact it’s hard and costly (in effort and environmental impact) to create each new bar and there’s a real limit on the amount of gold available that makes it scarce. Plus it’s a stable metal. I mean – you can’t eat it, or grow it and it’s not even great at making useful things.
But I take your point. There’s a lot of FOMO and irrational decision making around, especially at the moment.
re gold, agreed.
It’s good to be cautious when everyone is saying buy, buy, buy, but it will be interesting to see what happens. Perhaps the issues can be resolved and, like you said, it is still early days….
It’s a great discussion so far, really interesting and making me think hard about my concerns and whether they are valid 🙂
I would argue against gold having “nothing much” to it. Bitcoin is intellectually fabricated and can only be used in trading value of bitcoin for something more tangible, like gold. Gold, is part of us (literally) and is important in electronics, science experiments, and more historically jewelry. All of these things are unimportant in a nihilistic view of life. Sure we could use other metals in place of gold, but they are often as rare.
Cryptocurrency, like money created from interest, is imaginary just like the price of gold. But clearly, gold is something useful to manufacturers and science.
I’ve had a few friends sell some NFTs. I appreciate the idea of cryptocurrency and have a small amount invested in it. I stream music and movies out of convenience and a minimalist uncluttered approach to life. However, if I buy an image as a piece of artwork, be it a photography, a painting, or even a digitally created file, I want to hang it on my wall as a physical/tangible object. I honestly just can’t wrap my head around the idea of owning a .jpg file. I don’t mean any offense in this post. I shoot film/Polaroids because I love the process and tangible results. I type my personal letters on a typewriter. I pull my espresso with an old school lever machine. I make my own belts and wallets out of leather. My partner makes almost all of her clothes and most of mine on a sewing machine. I still make and sell physical prints of my photographs from the darkroom. The joy of selling a framed and matted photograph I printed with my hands will always win over selling a .jpg I sold on the internet.
Thank you Duncan! I agree with everything you say, of course. To love film photography is to love tangible things.
I think our interest in NFTs is not to REPLACE something we currently do and love, but to see if there’s something NEW that could add to the hobby. For many people it might be a hard “no thank you”. Maybe even for us! (Hence the experiment – to try and see).
There clearly ARE some people in the world who appreciate NFTs though, that’s been proven. What we’re interested in is not converting those of us who love tangible things into loving NFTs, but to ask the question: can we offer something of value to people who ALREADY love NFTs?
If you think of the people who bought NFTs off your friends – do you think they’d buy a jpeg of a photo off you? If yes – would you sell? If they wouldn’t – why not? I think those are interesting questions.
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Why is an NFT sale better than a normal sale? From reading the provided links, I’d make more money by not using NFTs.
Thanks for asking. The short answer is that it’s not at all better. You absolutely MIGHT make more money by not using NFTs, IF you can sell prints. What I’m interested in is whether people who CAN’T or DON’T WANT to see prints might be able to sell NFTs. Why might that be the case? Because there is a new market of buyers out there who are purchasing online art (NFTs). Some film / vintage camera photographers might feel more happy selling a digital file than arranging for and selling a print. They MIGHT – that’s all.
So that’s the idea – not to replace print sales, but to create a new market for photographers who are interested, to sell to buyers who are already buying online art.
What do you think?
Great you are dipping your toes in to the NFT waters. I had a look at the auction, you are actually accepting Wrapped ETH, not ETH, which is a good thing because the gas fees for ETH could be up to $200 just to complete a bid. Wrapped ETH, as far as I know is a BEP-20 token on the Binance smart chain, this is good because it has much lower fees, suitable for the auction, but not good as hardly anyone has Wrapped ETH to spend. I wonder if the Opensea platform allows you to accept BNB? This would be a much more common currency for people to hold that is compatible with the Binance smart chain.
Again it’s great you are pioneering here 🙂
Thank you so much for your comment! That’s a really good tip, and actually despite looking into it I’m not completely sure. It looks to me as thought Opensea DOES accept a range of coins, but it’s not clear how to offer or accept them. I’ve trawled through their documentation, looked at other auctions and tried bidding on a few things myself – they all seem to be in wETH. I worked through the Opensea links to convert a small amount of ETH to wETH via relay.radar.tech and the transaction failed because the site insisted I offer a ludicrously low gas fee. Interesting.
Well – that’s another lesson to add to the list. Thank you Matt! This conversation has really exposed lots of interesting aspects of NFTs and feels very worthwhile.
Hi there, am I right that around 3 months after publication there have been no bids for your NFTs? I’m beginning to wonder if this whole NFT thing is over-hyped. I certainly hope so! I’m not convinced by any of the promises of POS actually working out, and it does appear to have other problems from some things I’ve read.
This is not to knock you guys, you’ve done an excellent job of experimenting in public, so thanks for that!
You’re absolutely right! We’re out about $100 and are not crypto millionaires through film photography yet 🙂
Our auction ended without a bid – but I definitely wouldn’t say that means the whole NFT thing is over-hyped. The most obvious possibility of course is that no-one liked our photos enough to buy them.
On the other hand, take a look at Justin Aversano’s project called “Twin Flames” : https://opensea.io/collection/twinflames
We hadn’t heard about it when we wrote this article but it actually launched a few months earlier than ours. It’s a beautiful and cohesive film photography portrait project. Justin originally sold one copy each of his 100 photos (as NFTs) for a bit over $1000 each, and these have been traded and re-traded for a total volume of a couple of MILLION dollars. That’s in six months, and he’s earned royalties (10% I think) from every single sale. The other day I saw he’d even bought one of his own NFTs back for 30ETH (about $75,000).
What does this tell us? Well – lotteries exist everywhere and Justin clearly won one. By itself that doesn’t make a sustainable NFT market, HOWEVER it’s exactly what we talk about in the article when we argue that a few large sales gives legitimacy and a price range for all other photographers. Twin Flames has shown what is possible in the film photography NFT space and we didn’t know that before it came along.
As best as I can figure out, NFT trading and culture currently exists on Twitter and the many associated project Discord’s. Jump online and follow Justin – https://twitter.com/justinaversano?s=21 for an introduction to the friendlier side of the space.
In terms of Proof of Work vs Proof of Stake that’s outside my area of expertise but I do note that Ethereum successfully hard-forked yesterday with the London upgrade, and that is one of the largest network upgrades in its history. There is a lot of credibility in their roadmap and many interesting papers written about PoS. I guess we’ll find out one way or the other eventually.
I’m still convinced there’s a big idea in NFTs and huge opportunities. That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone of course – that’s normal and fine. Certainly we intend to keep sharing our work as always AND continue minting NFTs for fun, to participate in a new marketplace and to keep learning new skills. Thank you for your reply and good luck out there!
Thanks for this article! I have decided to sell some of my lomo photos as NFTs on Opensea. Do take a look and extend your support. Let me know what you think? https://opensea.io/inn0cent