This unique medium of truth-telling and visual expression is more relevant than ever, as the world’s best photographers continue to burnish their images into our culture and onto our consciousness.
Yet as has happened before, technological change is triggering profound upheaval for the medium and the industry. In the nearly two centuries since its invention, we can point to certain moments when breakthrough innovations changed the course of photography’s history: the Daguerretypes of the 1840s. Anna Atkins setting photographs in a book for the first time in 1883, the advent of the motion picture and the arrival of Kodachrome film, the iPhone and Instagram.
We believe that 2021 will go down as another watershed year for photography. For the past two decades, even as digital technology has opened the medium to billions, as both producers and consumers, it has steadily been undermining the ethics and economics of the professional craft. The big tech companies have brought amazing innovation, but are sapping much of the value of the work from the authors who make the images that matter. In short, for too long now, the amateurs have been driving the destiny of the medium.
We believe that the blockchain can change the paradigm for the professional industry. This transparent and secure digital ledger provides a viable way to trace images across the internet, and reestablish scarcity on the marketplace. The emergence of NFT sales in 2021 has shown how the economic value of visual work can exist in digital form by reestablishing scarcity on the market and control with authors. Just as importantly, we now see the path through the same framework for a much broader and deeper economy that extends beyond the collector market. Yes, change is coming, and along with the world’s best photographers and those who believe in the power of visual storytelling, we hope you will join us around these 11 basic principles:
Look at the source. We believe that photography is a profession that is vital to society: for its unique ability to capture reality, document the world and give individual expression to the human condition. As the world is digitized, technologies that advance the craft should be embraced — yet that must include a fundamental reengineering of industry practices that puts the author back at the center of the entire process.
We believe that the best images want to be seen, but don’t want to be free. While the internet has resolved the first half of that equation, the challenge now is to find a way to value ownership without limiting openness.
To ensure a reliable digital market for professional photographers and visual storytellers, a new technological protocol is required to manage their work that is separate and distinct from the mass of amateur images created and circulated online. We believe the blockchain offers the means to design such a solution.
The new protocol must guarantee authenticity, traceability and ethical standards.
The new protocol must also be designed to ensure economic viability for professionals seeking to make a living producing worthwhile images of quality: photojournalists, visual artists, fashion and celebrity, et. al. Blockchain offers the possibility, with NFTs as the most obvious proof of the potency of creating scarcity in the digital space.
Photographers themselves, along with the news media, continue to finance the lion’s share of the best photography. Digital platforms that benefit from those images must contribute to the process.
Ease of use for photographers, media, tech companies, audiences and private collectors is central to building a new protocol for digital images in the interests of all.
We have serious concerns about the energy currently required to power the blockchain, and will insist on a solution that is environmentally sustainable.
Professionals have both a key role to play and much to gain by sharing knowledge about the place of images in society, and the ethics and economics necessary to sustain the medium.
Photographers, media, galleries, private companies, tech industry and the public sector must work together to build a new solution for the industry that is in the interest of society at large.
It’s in the eye of the beholder. In the eye of the shooter. It’s on your computer screen, between your hands, on a gallery wall. It’s a person or a place, or one inside the other. Beauty is a moment captured in time. Yesterday. Right now. Forever.
After years of technology undermining the value and usurping control of their work, photographers have a unique opportunity in NFTs. We don’t claim to know where that market will take us. But our vision is for the long-term and includes all work of value that professional photographers and visual storytellers produce.
To make it a sustainable profession, NFTs for collectors alone will not suffice. The same technological and economic formula that creates scarcity should extend across the entire digital marketplace. It is to bring to life an idea that Ted Nelson, the inventor of the digital link, first proposed in the 1960s.
Jaron Lanier recalled in his book You Are Not A Gadget: “He (Nelson) proposed that instead of copying digital media, we should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression and pay the author of that expression a small affordable amount whenever it is accessed.” Micropayments and million-dollar NFTs? Smartphones and social media, print sales and magazine covers? Journalists and artists, computer hacks and all people of good will on a shared mission to rebuild an industry and safeguard a timeless craft. Professional photography is dead. Long live professional photography.
We imagine a future where photographs, illustrations, infographics, video content and more will be both secure and flexible, open and profitable, widely seen and always traceable. They are pillars of a whole new economy that will change how we consume stories (and sustain storytellers) in the quest for a more fruitful and equitable digital ecosystem. Will you join us?