The Collector's Guide to Blockchain Photography
Ben Hopper’s “(not) Naked with Masks”
Nifty Gateway Presents: Publishers
Obscura enters OM
Your favorite creator’s favorite creator.
This week in pricing theory
Emerging curatorial culture
(not) Naked with Masks - Ben Hopper
In 2010, Israel-born photographer Ben Hopper started the project “Naked With Masks”, a manifest against censorship, driven by a simple question: “Why do we display our faces but cover our bodies?”
Designed to be a protest from its inception, Naked With Masks portrays anonymous models in public places wearing nothing but remarkably exquisite masks and a wild spirit.
The “hit and run” photoshoots were unauthorized. Although never stopped by law enforcement, Hopper’s collection was silenced the most powerful coercive force in modern society: social media.
After the images went viral, Instagram banned them all. This began a series of strikes against the work as social media platforms waged war on nudity, no matter the context.
(not) Naked With Masks was born as a companion collection, protesting the suppression of the original manifest against social censorship.
Composed of 16 test shoots from the original series, these images are just as unusual as their NSFW twins. Hopper’s original question remains, but when nudity is out of the equation another riddle emerges:
“Who do we become when our faces are hidden?”
The not-nude, barely-human images confront the viewer rather than autocratic social regimes. Viewers leave the comfort of the real world and enter a setting where faces are an accessory, raising powerful questions about pseudonymity, self-censorship, and the role-play we engage in day to day.
The costumed models provoke the visceral reaction generated when human forms land in the uncanny valley. Hopper presents us the monsters that may well be walking around us, hidden in plain sight, only to ask whether we ourselves might not be one of them.
By taking masks from all over the globe, and putting his models in every day scenes and common clothing, Hopper nearly gives us what we need to find kinship with his subjects — but not quite.
The absence of identity and expression, typically found in faces, triggers a certain unease. Rather than kinship and empathy, the images lead us to uncomfortable self-reflection rooted in hard questions about who we are.
Buried within the more SFW test shots of Ben’s original series, (not) Naked With Masks is a powerful comment on his original question. Autocratic censorship may be alienating, but not nearly as much as the censorship we impose on ourselves.
You can see the collection here on Sloika.
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This week, Nifty Gateway announced “Publishers”: a feature for independent artists and curatorial institutions to create and deliver custom drops to crypto and mainstream audiences alike.
Nifty Gateway is opening up their Curated Drops infrastructure to 50 Publishers, including Superchief, Monolith Gallery, and the Museum of Crypto. The feature is currently in beta, expected to be available to the general public in November 2023.
This week, RAW DAO acquired work by Alessandra Sanguinetti, Poulomi Basu, and Roe Ethridge. The collective continues to pursue its mission of collecting photographic works from diverse artists, while accumulating a historically significant and aesthetically cohesive photographic collection.
Obscura in the Open Metaverse
This Friday, September 2nd, Obscura threw a virtual party to celebrate the launch of the Obscura Museum in 6259’s Open Metaverse (OM). The alpha release consists of over 80 gallery spaces and features keystone Obscura collections Who We Are, The World Today, Carousel Curated, and Ukraine Emergency Dispatch. The sides and upper floors of the Obscura Museum building feature individual galleries by artists, partners, collectors, and community members.
Established in 2021 by photographers Alejandro Cartagena, Cooper Ray and collector Tony Herrera, Obscura is a beacon for artists in the the blockchain photography community. Obscura has deployed millions of dollars through grants and commissions as part of their mandate to support emerging and established photographic artists.
OM is a decentralized metaverse allocating land to culturally relevant projects for the preservation and display of crypto art. OM is currently in alpha, and welcomes guests to wander the Museum District (which apart from hosting the Obscura Museum, is home to the NUDE Neighborhood and the 6529 Photography Collection). Genesis City, the first city of the OM, will be open to guests in Fall 2022.
SuperRare’s own Senior Curator An pulled together a review of the favorite artists of many of the most regarded creatives in the blockchain photography space. The best way to connect to an artists work is frequently to understand the inspiration — we applaud An for her valiant effort in creating context around the work we’ve long admired.
The other thing we’ve overheard this week? Strong thinking around pricing in the art market from collector @P_Azuro. The ongoing discussion about the appropriate approach to pricing, and whether artists marking up their own primary markets is a good strategy long term, is part of a broader discourse around pricing individual works.
Some viewpoints converge on marking prices up as a way of protecting the investment of existing collectors. Others, in Azuro’s school, argue that comfortable primary markets facilitate secondary market activity, which is ultimately better for collectors and artists — particularly in a context of royalties. In either case, the debate is unlikely to settle any time soon, though we do look forward to its continued evolution.
Emerging curatorial culture
Historically delegated to institutions, curation is becoming a social past time among collectors. Publicly showcasing works that you’ve acquired through various virtual gallery software is a great way to get more joy out of collecting, support artists, create cultural relevance for the works individually (and the collection as a whole), and connect with other collectors.
Collectors are leveraging different platforms, from Twitter to 3D spaces imitating the gallery experience (OnCyber) to platforms that offer extensive customization while embracing the 2D nature of modern display devices (Citrus) or the ability to leverage the public nature of blockchains to display unowned works (Deca) that are in dialog with the work being presented.
Participation in this emerging culture contributes to a wider conversation about the role of art in society. Especially when it comes to image making and photography, art is generally at the service of capital. People buy images they like, and those people are typically people who have funds available for a past time like art-buying — leading to more work produced in the same theme, style, or genre. Showing, discussing, and connecting work outside of this popular thread diversifies the pool of ideas in the public consciousness.
While curation in its traditional sense entails a heady blend of preservation, artist relations, art theory, and administration, the digital nature of blockchain photography as a medium lends itself well to flirting with lighter-weight, modern styles.
Questions presented by art are deep and nuanced, but understanding work in its context can be approached through any of deep analysis, tinkering, or play. On Twitter alone, collectors and artists alike have been drawing connections between modern and traditional works, photography and generative art, between themes iterated by artists with different styles, and within their own collections. Games like fantasy collecting (fantasy football— but replace football with photography) and image making through use of generative models are also creating ways for collectors to connect over taste, creating bonds outside of common financial incentives. Spaces like the PhotoVerso Twitter community are places where collectors can share work or initiatives they like and connect with others over taste, without annoying the remainder of their timeline.
Off Twitter, initiatives like Thread Gallery, Monolith, and OM are systematically contributing to new ways for collectors and artists to share work that prompts community gathering, discussion, and cross-pollination of ideas. These initiatives require far more coordination and capital, and eventually often result in collector DAOs forming to create the structure required for coordinating buying decisions and activity. The next generation of collector DAOs will form bottom up, based on active communities with shared values, common activities, mutual engagement, and fast paths to sustainability — in short, the canonical “group chat with a shared wallet” — where native tokens are the last step along the road to a thriving culture.