Towards the moon: Night sky photographer makes money from NFT craze

For digital artists and musicians, the advent of NFTs represents an opportunity to make money on their own terms – just ask Nelson photographer Kaleb Johnston.

If you’ve been spending time on Twitter or Instagram lately, you’ve probably seen Kaleb Johnston’s photos. My favorite is the May Super Flower Blood Moon, a detail of which is shown above. But he did so much more. Like this photo from Stranger Things of a huge moon cutting through pine trees and power lines. Or this image of the Cape Reinga lighthouse against a background of the Neapolitan sky.

Johnston’s work has attracted a huge following on social media. The Super Flower Blood Moon got 154,000 likes on Twitter alone. Part of his success is also due to his seriousness: A 20-year-old who lives on the outskirts of Nelson, Johnston is used to responding to the hundreds of comments he receives. He often feels compelled to post images from his camera to convince internet trolls that his photos are real.

Technically, however, this social media success is only possible because sharing content doesn’t cost anything. This has always been the strain for Internet artists. The ease of sharing content online allows their work to go viral; this same ease makes it incredibly difficult for them to earn any money.

So far. Johnston is part of a wave of online artists using a new technology called NFT to finally monetize their virality.

The explanations of most NFT enthusiasts are incomprehensible, so it’s fair if you’re not quite sure what they are. Basically, Internet content has always been interchangeable. If you had the original “Disaster Girl” meme and a copy of that meme on your computer, they would be largely the same. NFTs – non-fungible tokens – allow you to use blockchain technology (the same system that powers Bitcoin) to attach an unalterable data tag to that original meme, or anything else.

There’s more than that (if you’re interested, check out this great explainer from Spinoff), but basically the NFT data tag allows you to make internet content unique and claim ownership of it – creating scarcity and product. salable.

In fact, that’s what the “Disaster Girl” did. Zoë Roth, now 21, turned the original photo into an NFT and sold it for US $ 473,000. Roth is one of the many memes that are finally enjoying their virality, alongside Bad Luck Brian, Overly Attached Girlfriend, and Scumbag Steve.

An NFT of the original ‘Disaster Girl’ photo sold for US $ 473,000

But the biggest impact of NFTs has been on the art world. Earlier this year, Internet artist Beeple sold an NFT to Christie’s Auction House for $ 69 million (the joke seems too obvious not to be useful), making it the third most expensive work ever sold by a living artist. Thousands of other artists have followed suit, including a handful of New Zealanders, the best known of which is Kaleb Johnston.

Johnston’s father is a stock trader and his brother is an avid cryptocurrency enthusiast. Inspired by them, he decided at the end of 2020 to invest in cryptocurrency and quickly took advantage of it. This success left him comfortable enough with the crypto discourse that when NFTs arrived he took a straight dive. I started asking questions of friends who were in space and how I would get involved. Soon after, I struck my first coin on Foundation.

Foundation is one of the largest NFT markets; By listing this first piece, Johnston started an extraordinary race. He has already earned around $ 20,000 in cryptocurrency through his work. That’s extraordinary loot – especially for someone whose only formal training in photography was NCEA Media Studies at Waimea College, Johnston’s local high school.

Photographer Kaleb Johnston (Photos: Dean Harvey)

Despite this sparse background, his social media following and NFT sales have allowed him to do photography full time. Johnston is naturally excited. “So far it’s been a great success. I am a full time photographer and finding consistent work in this scene is very difficult. Having a side business in the NFT market is really great. “

Johnston is not the only New Zealander to be involved in the NFT. Tristan Roake – who is part of dubstep duo Truth – has also taken to the game, releasing an audiovisual NFT to coincide with the release of their new album Acceptance. Roake, however, takes a more cynical point of view. He describes NFTs as a “bubble” passing through a “meteoric rise”. “There is a lot of speculation going on,” he says. “It’s always going to fall apart at some point.”

He might be right. While those who own NFTs can claim ownership, this does not prevent anyone from sharing NFT marked content. Much of the “scarcity” is artificial. Those who are willing to spend thousands or millions to buy NFTs do so because they believe in this scarcity nonetheless. If they stopped, the whole system would collapse.

But it’s the same as just about anything on the Internet. For now, NFTs could be on the verge of being a game-changer for online artists. It created a financial gain for the hype, as Johnston explains when I ask what advice he would give to other New Zealand creatives looking to get on the NFT train. “The best advice is to go on Twitter and engage in the community. It’s really important to be involved with all the other artists and collectors in the NFT scene. You might have a great job, but if no one knows you exist, your chances of selling work are obviously much lower.

For now, Johnston still has high expectations for NFTs. He describes this viral image of May’s Super Flower Blood Moon as his “crown jewel.” The NFT is available now. Its asking price? $ 40,733.60. I won’t be surprised if he gets it.