If you’ve been online in the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen people talking about the NFT art craze. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique (that’s the non-fungible part) units of data (that’s the token part) that live on the blockchain for different crypto currencies (mostly Ethereum).
I talked to photographer and digital artist Saksham Thukral, who is diving into the NFT world, about what NFTs mean for photographers working in this space.
What is NFT art?
In a process called “minting,” artists are using NFTs to represent one-off, collectible forms of digital work (such as artworks, audio, video, animations and so on) — and selling them, sometimes at incredible prices, to NFT collectors.
The ability to trade unique digital works, without limiting their ability to broadcast, share and promote the work, is exciting artists who are diving into this space headfirst. As Saksham says, “The most important factor that attracted me toward the NFTs and CryptoArt market was the freedom of rules. For example, the copyright. So here if I sell an image, I still retain the copyright (unless I specify otherwise), while the buyer technically possesses the image. And that was important for me as I still wanted to continue using the same photographs in future exhibitions, competitions as well.”
Is there room in the NFT space for photography?
Digital art is doing well so far, especially for 3D and mixed media artists who have a wide audience already. But is there room in the NFT world for photographers?
Saksham has seen abstract work, fine art, journalism and editorial photography doing well, “however, my photography has always been about capturing the culture, traditions and the spirit of people, which is a completely different, more traditional style and can be a potential barrier for me. For all I know, it may also turn out to be worthwhile. Collectors want to buy pictures that are reputable, that leave a message and have a story behind them.
“However, in order to mint and list NFTs, we need to pay gas fees, which are dependent on the traffic, and [can be] really high, causing another barrier for smaller artists to experiment with different styles and see which works best. This can change in future though, as platforms are continuously working on bringing the gas fees down.”
How do NFT minting platforms work?
NFTs are minted and traded on a range of different platforms: some, like OpenSea and Rarible are open to anyone, others, like Foundation and SuperRare, are by invite or application only. As Saksham mentions, gas fees (a price that crypto miners charge to write new data onto a blockchain) are required to mint artworks, and these costs can be prohibitive.
OpenSea offers lazy minting, which means that the item is purchased before it is transferred on-chain, thus removing the need for upfront costs without the surety of a sale, but for some, the less-exclusive environment is unappealing.
Saksham took all this under consideration when choosing his NFT platform.
“Platforms like OpenSea and Rarible I would say are similar to YouTube. They have huge collections of different kinds of art to choose from. And then there are platforms like SuperRare which are only for the most exclusive pieces. As a beginner into cryptocurrency and NFTs I chose Foundation which is a nice middle ground between these platforms, and also has a large photographers’ community.”
For many artists, getting a foot in the door on an invite-only platform is the best way to proceed into NFTs. “I’ve just started out on this journey. Because of the limitations of current blockchain technology, it can be hard to get accepted on a platform in the first place. But the community is good, and by making contacts with other artists, you can get accepted as well,” says Saksham.
How to choose what to mint as your first NFT
Because of the questions around photography’s appeal as NFTs, Saksham stuck to his already-popular art style when choosing what he would mint as his first NFT. “My original Bobbleheads Animated characters in Dr. Bobbles avatar, have gained millions of views and built a strong fan base on my YouTube channel.”
“Knowing that it is my proven art style … no doubt people loved it. In the NFT artists community my digital art has received good feedback so far. However, as for the buyers, I have yet to see, and I look forward to what they think of it. So far, what I’ve seen is that unique and abstract art styles interest buyers more than anything.”
Even so, Saksham is optimistic about the potential for photographers to get on board, particularly if their work “looks similar to a rendering.”
“Over a decade ago, when this concept was emerging, not many people believed in it. Today it has become a game changer for all artists. Right now the market has hype and is filled with 3D renders and animations. But slowly musicians are getting into it, known personalities are collaborating with 3D artists and making something out of the box, such as the recent NFT the PussyRiot group sold for 100 ETH. So photographers should not miss it either.”
An opportunity for photographic artists is collaboration, particularly if photographers are keen to break into the exclusive invite-only NFT realms. This is how Saksham envisions bringing his photography work to collectors as an NFT.
“Photographers (and videographers) [can] start collaborating with 3D artists to make a combination of ‘real and render,’ which is what I’m working on, and plan to continue for some time, before I eventually start experimenting by minting my traditional photography, such as this shot of the world’s tallest Raavana I took in 2018 during the festival of Dushhera.”
Concerns about NFTs
One of the concerns with NFTs is the carbon footprint of minting NFTs, and this issue has received a lot of attention online. Some artists, such as Chuck U, are donating part of their proceeds to organizations like onetree.org to offset the impact.
Other concerns have been raised about the likelihood of getting a sale for emerging artists, especially when high gas prices are being paid for minting. Like auction houses of the past, minting platforms take a cut of the sales, too.
But the potential for artists to get their work to passionate collectors, and continue earning as their pieces are traded on (artists receive a percentage of subsequent sales as the piece changes hands in the future), is enough for eager NFT creators.
“Right now, photography hasn’t completely taken off in the NFTs market as much as animations and renderings,” Saksham says. “But it’s definitely gaining popularity and there’s a bigger scope for it in the near future. The world moves fast and there are few things where you can still become ‘one of the first’ and set an example for others to follow. This is one of them.”
About Saksham Thukral
Saksham is an 18-year-old CG Generalist with over three years of experience and a unique brand. He is best known for his original “Bobbleheads Animated” characters, which have gained millions of views on YouTube. He currently works in the music industry, making animated music videos and visualizers for mainstream and underground artists such as 6ix9ine, Nicki Minaj, UNOtheactivist and others.
When not designing, Saksham enjoys painting, guitar and piano, photography, arts and crafts, and dabbling in game development. As Saksham says: “I’m always striving to try out new things and learn more, outside of my comfort zone!” His photography has been published by UNESCO Silk Roads and received an honorable mention in the Tokyo International Foto Awards 2020.
I’d like to thank Saksham for sharing his insights with us. You can check out his work on Instagram, follow him on Twitter, see more of his “Bobbleheads Animated” series on YouTube or view his latest NFT for sale on Foundation here. His first NFT, “Heroes of 2020,” is available (at time of writing) to purchase on Foundation here.
Want to learn more about NFTs?
Be sure to join us live!
On Tuesday, March 30, 2021 at 2 p.m. ET, join Frederick Van Johnson as he sits down with Jesse Dittmar. Together, they’ll discuss the recent trend of NFTs in photography.