Meet the Collector: Chikai
The Collector's Guide to Blockchain Photography
Over the past year, Chikai has become among the most widely recognized collectors in the NFT community. While developing a collection of photographs that is approaching 200 pieces, Chikai is also an vocal supporter of artists in his ecoystem, frequently sharing work and retweeting new photography collections that come across his feed. This spring, he debuted his own virtual exhibition platform, Monolith, which aims to reimagine the gallery space via a process of open curation.
Our chat with Chikai is the first of our new series of interviews titled Meet the Collector, through which we aim to learn more about prominant figures in the NFT photography community who not only collect, but lead discussions and actively work to build the cultures that define the space.
To start, can you talk a bit about your background prior to your involvement with NFTs?
Before NFTs, I was one of the co-creators of Google Earth. I was one of the co-founders of Keyhole that was acquired by Google in 2004 and our product became Google Earth.
What made you decide to begin collecting photography? Who was the first photographer to enter your collection?
It took a long time for me to start collecting photography. I wasn't sure if I had good eye for photography and also most of the ones I wanted tended to be outside of my price range. Many photographers reached out to me to convince me to start collecting photographer. One of them was Neil Burnell and I eventually bought his piece "Labyrinth" on Foundation. Later on I realized that I had actually bought a photography piece before that on Nifty Gateway. It was Reuben Wu's "Ex Stasis III". At first it seems like it was more of an animated/video piece, but now of course I see it as photography. But when I really started collecting photography was after Alejandro Cartegna released "Carpoolers". His collection inspired many photographers and a lot of photography collections came out soon after. I was never a PFP collector, but photography collections were my kind of "PFP" and also fit in my price range. I bought pieces from "Panoramic Portraits" by Rizacan Kumas, "Painted Poeetry" by Brendan North, "From the Other Side" by Michelle Viljoen, "Shades of Blue" by Vieri Bottazzini, and many others.
How many photographs have you collected to this point? And how frequently do you add to your collection?
I have 170+ photographs in my collection, which is currently about half of my collection. I honestly don't know how frequently I add to it, just depends on when I find pieces that truly inspire me or speak to me.
Visions of the Future: Auction and Curated Exhibition by Saatchi Art
Saatchi Art invites the web3 photography community to participate in their first jury-curated blockchain photography auction.
Titled “Visions of the Future”, the exhibition invites artists to create photographic works exploring the momentous changes society has undergone in the last decade — and where they expect us to go next. Submissions close July 25th, with the auction set to go live in August 2022.
In the first project of its kind, jurors will select works by 50 fine art photographers for auction as phygital items. Each NFT chosen for auction will come with a physical limited-edition print produced by Saatchi Art for its first holders. Two more physical editions may be redeemed through the end of 2022 by any subsequent holders of tokens bought on the secondary market.
Submissions close July 25th, with the auction set to go live in August 2022.
Read the artist’s brief to learn more and submit your work.
Do you have any favorite artists or images from your collection that you’d like to share?
The "Strong Hair" collection by Yatreda is truly stunning. "The Parody of a Tangled Thread" collection by Summer Wagner was truly a masterpiece. "Black Maria" by Essa is an exquisite piece. "Harem" collection by Mehmet Turgut is what I call "slow motion photography" and it takes your breath away when you see the hand move in the piece I bought called "Deep Silence". "City" collection by Omar Z Robles truly put him on the map with one of the finest examples of street photography in the NFT space. "Echoes and Whispers" collection by Samantha Cavet is mind-blowing in how it use photography as a paint brush and creates this feeling that it is from a different time long ago, yet still incredibly modern.
Do you have a particular thesis when it comes to acquisitions? How do you decide that a piece is right for you?
I have yet to develop a specific thesis around collecting, since I feel like that I know so little about the craft of photography (and art in general) that I'm still very much a student and all of these great artists that I collect from are my mentors. At first it was very much what I found aesthetically pleasing, but over time I've started to develop a bit more sophistication in how I choose pieces to buy and that has definitely come from the many long chats I've had with artists and other collectors.
When considering new work for your collection, are there any “red flags” that can turn you off to potential acquisitions?
When I collected art before NFTs (which wasn't very often), I'd go to a gallery with my wife, maybe talk to the artist for a little bit, then walk home with the artwork. I often never talked to the artist after that ever again. But with NFTs, there is an incredible dialogue that happens with artists after I buy a piece and I truly value that connection and the community that surrounds it. So these days the artist themselves matter as much to me as the art itself and without that connection to the artist, I often feel that something is missing after buying an NFT. So if I don't see the possibility of an authentic and genuine connection happening with the artist, it definitely gives me pause.
How do you see the state of the photography market at the moment?
I see photography growing from its Instagram phase of just pretty pictures of the perfect life into a much more diverse spectrum of photography. I think the NFT photography collector community is starting to develop a much more sophisticated taste as they learn more about the art form and in turn they are wanting photography with a lot more meaning and depth. This growing sophistication in collectors also means that there will be a market for a wider variety of photography as we've seen most recently with street photography.
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Do you have any predictions for the future of photography on the blockchain?
In ten years, I believe that NFT photography could be worth more than all of the PFPs combined.
What advice might you have for artists who are looking to gain your attention on their work?
If you were to walk up to a stranger on a crowded street of New York, how would you make a genuine connection with them? I don't think you start by asking them to buy your art. You'd probably compliment them on their shoes or maybe the rock concert t-shirt they were wearing. Maybe you'd ask for directions or a recommendation for a good place to eat. I think it's no different with collectors.
Beyond collecting, are you involved in any other kinds of Web3 projects? What keeps you busy outside of the space?
I'm building MONOLITH Gallery. I'm a SuperRare Space Operator. I'm also the Director of Web3 for Niantic (creators of Pokemon Go). Plus I have many collabs and partnerships with people across the Web3 and NFT ecosystem.