Polaroids and NFTs seem not likely companions. For Rhiannon Adam, they’re anything but

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Adam talks about experimenting with NFT technologies to capture the magic of Polaroids developing but in the digital realm

From the age of seven to 15, Rhiannon Adam lived on the 42-foot sailing boat with her family. Setting off in the Irish city of Cork, exactly where she was born, they travelled onwards and ended up within the Caribbean. It was an extraordinary method to grow up. But given that the girl early life predated the widespread availability of digital cameras, and she encountered few options to purchase or develop film, Adam has no photographic evidence of her time at sea.

To fill in the gaps, Adam archived ephemera; mementoes associated with life that she held in labelled canisters. “None of it meant anything to anyone else, ” she says, “but they were little keys to consider a time, place or thing. ” When Adam eventually enrolled in school in the UK, the lady struggled to convince the girl peers of her lifetime before land. “Because I didn’t have a photograph from it, it’s like it didn’t happen, ” she recalls. “I became interested in photography for this reason. I got into Polaroid since instead of collecting stuff, I could take pictures. ”

Within the decades since, Adam – now an art and social documentary photographer – has remained loyal to the Polaroid, fascinated by its technology and ability to instantly capture moments that would otherwise be lost to time. “Some people think of me as a total Luddite because I use analogue, ” she continues. “But all of these analogue processes had been the groundbreaking technology of their day, and the process nevertheless entrances me. ”

Arlington House, Margate. NFT. Polaroid SX-70 © Rhiannon Adam.

Tombstoning. Margate. NFT. Polaroid SX-70 © Rhiannon Adam.

NFTs cracked into the public consciousness within February 2021 when public sale house Christie’s announced the particular first-ever sale of the digital tokens, including Everydays – The First 5000 Days : a compendium of art created everyday for 13 years with the digital artist known as Beeple. It exists wholly digitally, and in mid-March the NFT sold for an eye-watering $69. 3million, instantly pushing Beeple into the top three best living artists.

An NFT itself is an unique and immutable digital asset stored at the blockchain. It can be a Polaroid, a good artwork, a tweet, the song. Anyone with an internet link can see an NFT, yet only one person can own each edition. Many are one-offs. “The NFT, or crypto in general, is like inventing digital photography for the first time as a cyanotype, ” Adam says. “It seems that revolutionary. It’s the kind of magic I’ve never had the opportunity to experience because everything has been invented before I came along. ”

Traditionally, artist costs are shared with galleries as well as other go-betweens, and when an artwork hits the secondary marketplace, artists rarely see royalties at all. NFTs contain ‘smart contracts’ that detail a NFT’s history, such as who have made it and who’s bought it since. They can also automatically reward royalties to the NFT’s creator each time it is resold. This potential to passively profit over an artwork’s lifespan through these wise contracts is not lost on Adam. “There’s something so liberating about that, ” the lady says.

Bangkok. 2012 (remixed 2021) – Developing Polaroid © Rhiannon Adam.

Adam’s first NFTs are a selection of her beloved Polaroids. Her most current release, auctioned on NFT marketplace Foundation, was a hypnotic looping video titled Bangkok, 2012 (Remixed 2021) – Developing Polaroid [stills from which are above] . The particular NFT is an iteration of a Polaroid capturing the Bangkok skyline taken almost about ten years ago, scanned, and re-exposed onto Polaroid film earlier this year. As opposed to the original Polaroid that Bangkok, 2012 (Remixed 2021) Developing Polaroid evolved from, anyone can experience the magic from the Polaroid’s process infinitely. Adam’s NFT captures the Polaroid developing into its final form before it resets and begins again. “It’s as close to owning the Polaroid as you can get, without me actually getting rid of the particular Polaroid, ” she states.  

For every NFT aficionado, there is a critic. Some include Adam’s Instagram followers exactly who, upon her announcement, left a comment on the alleged ecological effect of NFTs. Indeed, keep away from last year, artist Memo Akten published The Uncommon Ecological Cost of #CryptoArt on Medium, a two-part post likening the energy-spend of one NFT to “flying for 1500 hours”. Yet technology moves fast, plus none quicker than blockchain, and a switch to ‘clean’ or ‘green’ blockchains, such as those people operating on Proof of Risk – more sustainable than the current Proof of Work, or PoW, system – has already been sweeping the industry. “When you start looking at anything [there’s an ecological impact], ” says Adam, referencing the energy-spend of many industries. “[Those critics] are most likely writing from a cobalt-ridden smart phone. I had this dude disliking on me on Instagram who said, ‘I require my phone for work’, but it’s like, ‘Well, maybe I need NFTs regarding work’. Half of my work I make is about topics like climate change, therefore there’s an irony in it. ”

Adam does listen to these concerns but feels that the way to evolve technology is by learning about its capabilities and then improving them. “It’s much easier to change techniques by actually using them and understanding how to do it differently than it is to ignore them totally, ” she says. “Not being involved in the blockchain is like saying, ‘I don’t rely on the internet. I think I’d rather stick to my printed encyclopaedia in my library’. People who state it’s a fad aren’t thinking of the bigger picture. ”

Gasometer, Hackney. NFT. Polaroid SX-70 © Rhiannon Adam.

Monsoon. Bangkok. NFT. Polaroid SX-70 © Rhiannon Adam.

This particular bigger picture, Adam believes, will certainly transform how we think about conserving and archiving artwork. “I’m interested in how technology can change how you think about your work when you are able to make stuff specifically as NFTs that don’t exist in the real world. Or that can’t exist in the real life, but are very much section of your practice, ” the girl says. Adam intends to continue advertising NFTs in her practice, and will soon undertake a remote NFT residency with the art/crypto collective Department of Decentralization. “The developing Polaroid is the direction I’m going in, ” she says, “of being able to make stuff that’s extremely hard to keep hold of in 3D space. I love the idea of analogue and digital merging. Having the ability to use digital to preserve analogue, rather than competing and wiping out it. ”

Ultimately, Adam sees NFTs becoming because embedded in our everyday lives as social media is. “People loved Tumblr, people love Instagram, people love curating things on Pinterest to exhibit what their taste will be. People are obsessed with saying, ‘This is what good taste looks like. I have good taste; you should follow me’. So why is it such a stretch for people to comprehend that an NFT is a way of saying the same thing? ”

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Ashleigh Kane

Ashleigh Kane is a writer, curator, and creative expert based in Melbourne and Greater london. She was previously the Arts & Culture Editor in Dazed and recently released her newsletter eye spied. She has written for Dazed, I-D, Another, The Face, Elephant, Highsnobiety, Crack, Brick, Riposte, Foam, Glorious Sport, Truth, Ambush Universe and others.

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