Garden Bird Cacophony


Our garden appears to be quite untidy compared to our neighbours’ but it’s very much by design. My wife has planned it with wildlife in mind rather than traditional human aesthetics and, goodness me, it attracts a lot of birds at this time of year!

We intended to do the Big Garden Birdwatch today but it’s very stormy here in Newcastle upon Tyne as Storm Malik blows through, so we’re going to wait for calmer weather tomorrow.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a short recording I made on 2nd February 2021, a day when the birds arrived in their hundreds.

I was working away on my laptop at the time during the third lockdown.

“Open the front door!” my wife called down the stairs.

The avian sonic onslaught was something to behold. The weather was atrocious then too but I couldn’t resist grabbing my shotgun microphone to make a quick mono recording of the cacophony for posterity:

A courier delivering a parcel shortly afterwards was spellbound by the sight and sound of so many species flitting about. It was great to see somebody else appreciating it too.

We love attracting so many creatures to our wild garden — wild and woolly’s the way to go if you’d like to do the same!

As always, good headphones or speakers recommended for full sonic enjoyment, particularly now that I’m uploading them to Bandcamp.

I’ve recently learned that SoundCloud (the audio streaming platform I’ve used until now) applies hefty compression to the files, which explains why they don’t have the quality of my original recordings.

Follow me on Bandcamp where I’m gradually republishing my favourites.

You can stream them free-of-charge. After a few plays, Bandcamp asks you to pay for further listens.

I’ve set it so that you can pay whatever you feel comfortable with from £1 — all contributions are hugely appreciated and will enable me to keep making new work.

Thanks for reading and listening!

Are Aspiring Photographers Being Used to Prop Up the Grave New World of NFTs?

As is often the case, a thought process that starts life as a Twitter thread really needs a more permanent home:


In the spirit of hearing both sides of the NFT conversation, I attended an hour long Twitter Space on Thursday evening — is that the right term? — hosted by The British Journal of Photography [now pitching themselves as ART3] and OpenSea.

The photographers all sounded like lovely people. I was rooting for them but I was soon really feeling for them. I accept that they don’t need me feeling for them but I believe there’s an important conversation still to be had.

I am worried that the people I heard this evening think they are in a world that is about photography.

I don’t believe they are.

NFTs are the child of crypto, not the child of art. That makes it fruit of the poisonous tree, a shady world that exists to drag people into it and make as much money from them while possible.

In that sense, the aspiring photographers are being lead down the garden path. I hope I’m wrong.

To elaborate a little from my original thread [below], I find the language and carrot dangling around NFTs grotesque.

Take this blog post by ART3 themselves. A sentence reads:

“It is no exaggeration to say the value of NFT art has been skyrocketing. In March 2021, American digital artist Beeple fetched a staggering 42,329 ETH ($69 million) at auction for his Everydays series — for which bidding only began at $100.

However, dig a little deeper and we begin to unravel a shadier story.

It transpires that the investor who purchased Beeple’s creation was actually a consortium of investors, one of whom was…the original artist.

There are many more sides to what did or didn’t go on with this famous sale via the previous link — worth a look if you have the energy but bear in mind it’s time you’ll never claw back.

In short, it’s not the story presented by ART3, OpenSea and the industry at large to aspiring photographers.

HOW DOES IT ALL STACK UP?

During Thursday’s event, we heard from Marc Hartog that some of the photographs are in fact minted on Ethereum rather than Polygon. This was of particular interest to me when considering his response to my email in October.

We heard A LOT about the photography being minted as NFTs but we didn’t hear anything about who’s buying the work. So how does it all stack up?

It’s hard to understand, especially when looking at the NFT sales trends in the art sector [see below] that are openly available here.

And who’s making all this money? Is it sustainable or just a blip? I guess we’ll find out. After all, it’s an arena still very much in its infancy.

My fear is that aspiring photographers are being used to prop up The BJP while it tries to reinvent itself.

HUBBUB

On the topic of stacking up, I see that @1854 now have over quarter of a million followers yet the tiniest amount of engagement I’ve ever seen for such a large following

That neatly mirrors the noise around NFTs — lots of work minted on the blockchain but apparently not many primary sales, let alone the promised royalties of secondary sales that are already shown to be dwindling.

THE NUB

I could go on even more than I have already over recent weeks. But, as I see it, here’s the nub of it — at least for the art world anyway:

It’s rare that we get the chance to look at a new technology, pause for a moment and ask:

“Is this right?”

I would like to go on the record as one person who says:

“I don’t think this is right and people are already suffering as a result.”


FURTHER READING

These articles have galvanised my views since writing This is Your NFT Wake-up Call in October:

  1. NFTs Weren’t Supposed to End Like This by Anil Dash, co-creator of NFTs
  2. Here is the article you can send to people when they say “But the environmental issues with cryptoart will be solved soon, right?” by Everest Pipkin
  3. Proof of stake is a scam and the people promoting it are scammers from Yanmaani’s Blog
  4. The Case Against Crypto by Martin O’Leary

Welcome to Gaviworld


I’ve been planning to make an audio story with friend and painter Gavin Watson for some time.

Gavin’s heading off to Switzerland soon to give a series of talks and exhibit some prints of his paintings. His hosts asked if he could supply a short film about his life as an artist.

It was a request that provided the perfect catalyst for us to do both — record the audio that’s been on my mind for a while and to film Gavin at work in Gaviworld, his home studio in the wilds of Northumberland.

So, I went to stay with Gavin for a couple of days earlier this month. The short film we made can now be viewed at the top of this post.

In time, I’ll compile the rest of the audio recordings into a longer story but, for now, I hope you enjoy this wee film.

Thank you for reading and watching — feel free to leave any thoughts/comments below.

Gavin Watson by Jack Lowe, November 2021

Tom Stoddart, 1953-2021

This morning, I’m reeling from the news that the great photographer Tom Stoddart has died.

I had the privilege of making prints for Tom in a previous chapter. I loved our chats and lunches together but we haven’t seen each other for years. I regret that now.

Years ago, I wrote a blog post about the time we met. The website frustratingly succumbed to a sequence of hacks, so I thought I no longer had a record of it.

However, I just did a search on my computer and found — because I’m a belt and braces kinda chap — that I’d saved text files of my blog posts in case of such an eventuality.

So, below these words, I’m pleased to be able to share that 2013 blog post with you particularly as it contains a couple of his anecdotes — treasures indeed.

Right at the end, you’ll see that he said to me:

It’s just so sad that images like this even have to exist.”

It is sad, Tom, but you were the man to make them. Rest in peace, you clever chap.


Tom Stoddart, Colombian Cool

One of the joys of 2013 has been meeting and working with the acclaimed photojournalist, Tom Stoddart.

As his site describes:

“During a long and varied career Tom has witnessed such international events as the war in Lebanon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of President Nelson Mandela, the bloody siege of Sarajevo and the wars against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.”

On meeting for the first time, I couldn’t help but think that the clinical environment of my studio was surely at odds with many of those frightening, desperately upsetting scenes to have passed before Tom’s eyes.

When he calls to let me know that a photograph is on its way for me to print, it’s hard to know exactly what will appear on my monitor — especially when the file is entitled ‘Cool Dude’.

So, what will a photograph by Tom Stoddart be like that’s called ‘Cool Dude’?

Well, it’ll be like this:

A striking image and one with an equally striking story:

COLOMBIA – NOVEMBER 1996:  Cocaine is worth billions of dollars to the Colombian drug traffickers. More than 70,000 people have died in the cartel wars, and Colombia’s elite Special Forces have battled hard to stem the flow of drugs from the jungle region of Guaviare which covers an area of 26,000 sq miles and produces more than half the world’s cocaine.  The photograph shows Special Forces after blowing up a landing strip used by cartels to transport cocaine from a coca-processing lab in the heart of the Colombian jungle.

Tom candidly told me about another facet to this photograph:

Having flown in by helicopter, a 4×4 vehicle belonging to the cartel was found nestled in the bushes. Unusually, the Special Forces decided to try and drive it back to the Police station some 100km away.

So, Tom now had the choice of returning by car or helicopter.

He chose the latter, which was fortunate as the 4×4 was ambushed en route. One of the Special Forces’ men was killed, the others were wounded but survived.


Tom has kindly given me a copy of his stunning book, iWITNESS.

Published by Trolley, printed in Italy and with a foreword by Sir Bob Geldof, it’s a beautifully produced tome full of anguish, sadness, desperation, horror, hope and optimism.

As Tom said when he handed it to me, “It’s just so sad that images like this even have to exist.”

Response from ART3 on NFTs

Earlier this week, The British Journal of Photography announced that they have entered the NFT arena with the launch of ART3, a better way to collect, sell and own photographic art.

This coincided with my blog post last Sunday, so I wrote to The BJP expressing my concerns.

They replied to me last night and published it on Google Drive.

If, like me, you do your best to avoid signing in to Google, you can find their response below followed by the reply I’ve just sent them.

As you’ll see, and as I mentioned on Sunday, the topic of NFTs is a huge rabbit hole. After this post, I will likely take a step back before it consumes my entire life but I’m glad my missives have been so helpful to so many and, at the very least, that they’ve spurred on the much-needed conversation about such a controversial topic.

If you would like to submit your own thoughts to ART3, you can do so here.


On a separate note, I would like to thank Andy Barnham who has been my guide on this intricate and bumpy path, shining a bright light into the darkest corners of the rabbit hole that keeps on getting deeper the further you look.

You may remember that I quoted from Andy’s own blog post about NFTs and you can catch him on Twitter. Thank you, Andy!


27th October 2021

Dear Jack,

Thank you for your email and I have read your blog post which includes some interesting points. As our minting policy states, we also care deeply about the environment and did our own in-depth research into the points you make before we launched ART3.io

While we agree that minting NFTs directly on blockchains like Ethereum that use a “proof of work” mechanism is very costly in terms of energy consumption (and associated fees), the same doesn’t apply the blockchains that use a next generation “proof of stake” system, which has a significantly lower energy consumption. I recommend this NBC article, which provides a great introduction to the two different blockchain technologies, and explains how “energy consumption for proof of stake is 99.99 percent lower than proof of work”. 

To mint our NFTs, ART3 uses one of the leading proof of stake blockchains, Polygon, which claims credentials as the most eco-friendly blockchain. Polygon records transactions on its own chain using “ZK-rollup technology” rather than writing each transaction to the main Ethereum blockchain. This offers transactions with comparable carbon intensity to many other mainstream internet applications, such as email, cloud storage, internet search etc, that we all use daily.

As with many new technologies, blockchain and NFTs have started inefficiently and will improve rapidly over time. In fact, the entire Ethereum chain is well on its way to completing its imminent migration to proof of stake in the coming months. But, given the well publicised environmental impact of first generation proof of work blockchains it is hardly surprising, and right, that hard questions need to be asked and answered on these issues. This has certainly been our approach.

The decision to mint using Polygon, as opposed to minting directly to Ethereum, was taken by ART3.io, despite direct minting to Etherium offering more flexibility (e.g. Ethereum minting on OpenSea allows auction pricing, whereas Polygon only offers fixed pricing). Indeed, almost all of the biggest NFT projects still use Ethereum minting for those benefits. ART3.io are proud to say that we are one of only a tiny fraction of NFT sellers minting using Polygon and putting our environmental principles first. By leading the way on this, we are hopeful that we can set an example to others that success is possible minting on Polygon, so they have the confidence to follow in our footsteps.

Per some of the comments on your own post, there are significant benefits to NFTs or smart contracts which will be game changing for both collectors (being able to prove provenance and edition scarcity) and artists (being able to monetise their work and earn royalties on future sales). These are the tools which we are excited about, and which we will continue to explore as part of our long-held mission to help photographers realise their creative potential.

I would really encourage you to do your own deep research – starting with the links I have shared and going deeper from there – to gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of blockchain technology like proof of work vs proof of stake, roll-ups etc. The facts, I am sure, will put your mind to rest, as they did for us. This new technology has huge potential to empower creatives in so many different fields, so it would be a worthy use of your time.

The first drop we have open currently (Ones To Watch) has already raised significant income for 16 talented early stage photographic artists, and our next planned drops will be both highlighting work that shines a light on environmental issues, and allocate part of the income generated directly to environmental causes. 

I hope that clarifies our thinking and position on the very important matters you have raised.

All the best,

Marc

Marc Hartog, CEO of 1854 Media


28th October 2021

Dear Marc,

Thank you for your reply.

Ultimately, I’m left feeling that we need to take a step back from the sea of tech talk.

To be clear with you and anybody else reading, I understand that good things come from technology and that new technologies can be explored. However, the deeper I researched, the more appalled I became by the mechanisms that surround cryptocurrencies and the dark connections they’re known to finance.

You and other institutions can swamp us with the new language and tell us about how things will improve over time, but the fact is that we’re facing real world problems right now as a result of this activity — not just environmentally but practically too.

Mark Zuckerberg said, “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

That’s the stage NFTs are at right now — it’s moving fast and things are being broken. Is it really time for The British Journal of Photography to jump on this bandwagon? And is it aligned with your Decade for Change award which you say:

“…explores the many facets of the climate crisis: the strength and fragility of the natural world; the indirect impacts on communities and everyday people, and our global efforts to turn things around.”

NFTs aren’t solving a problem. Best practice is best practice — be it in the real world or online — and is upheld by rules and regulations that have evolved over time. The internet itself is still in its infancy, let alone the world of crypto and NFTs, and the lack of regulations are already destroying lives for the benefit of the few.

Trust in tech is at an all-time low due to lack of transparency and trust is being based on faith — much like a cult or a religion — as opposed to fact. As a very simple example, purchasing an NFT relies on a process of trust that the transaction will be upheld, a trust that we’re already seeing repeatedly being broken for the reasons I described in my blog post.

Your move says nothing for photography, but everything for money. Indeed, your response notably revolved around tech and money yet said little for photography itself.

On the environmental issues, less energy does not mean ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’ and I presume you’re planning to sell many NFTs, not as few as possible?

Whichever way you package it, you’re stoking the fire of a trading mechanism that is the child of crypto, not a creation of the art world. From eco-footprint to money laundering, the problems with NFTs stem from the issues that already plague crypto — to use a legal phrase, NFTs are ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’.

They’re a way to fabricate value in an unregulated world of unaccountability, a way to sell things that aren’t things, all within the framework of a brand new way to torture the planet.

I stand by my comments that NFTs are a new way to sell the emperor’s new clothes in the art world.

People may well return to this blog post in years to come to point and scoff at it because all the practical, ethical and environmental issues have been ironed out. In the meantime, there are people suffering along the way, whether through lost/expired/broken NFT transactions or by dying in an illegal coal mine.

For what it’s worth, I really don’t believe this is going to end well at all and I stand by the blog post I published on Sunday.

With best wishes,

Jack Lowe


FURTHER READING

Two articles I discovered a few days after writing this post, which galvanised everything for me, bringing a neat full-stop to a hectic week:

  1. NFTs Weren’t Supposed to End Like This by Anil Dash, co-creator of NFTs
  2. Here is the article you can send to people when they say “But the environmental issues with cryptoart will be solved soon, right?” by Everest Pipkin
  3. Proof of stake is a scam and the people promoting it are scammers from Yanmaani’s Blog
  4. The Case Against Crypto by Martin O’Leary

You might also like to read the blog post I wrote a few days earlier called This is Your NFT Wake-up Call.