Since the dawn of NFTs it has felt like an inevitability that portraiture and photography would one one day make their entrance into the crypto art stadium. And, since those same early days, the role of nudity has also been much-anticipated and discussed - as may always be the case on the internet. However, this will not be an article about an OnlyFans-like movement in the crypto art world. If that disappoints you, we assure you there are many other corners of the internet that may serve. Instead, let us offer here a glance across some of the artists using themes of nudity in the digital realm to open entirely new doors.
Let’s begin this journey at a moment in time that proved important for both photography and digital art. Ukrainian artist Artem Humilevsky explains in a pinned thread that he started his ‘Giant’ series as a sort of photographic diary of his quarantine, gradually using the medium as a tool through which to gain a new perspective on his sense of self. It is within the bubble of pandemic-imposed isolation that NFTs gained relevance as an infrastructure through which to showcase and express creativity. Adding onto that, it is in that very same solitude that photography, and particularly portraiture could be explored in a way that the world perhaps hadn’t quite experienced before.
As Humilevsky reflects on his experience during the pandemic, he shares with us the following words: “it was a terrible and difficult period, I have never felt so unbound, I was literally afraid of all communication, to go out to the store or on the street for the first time. A strong fear of the unknown took over. Gradually we learned to live with it, adapted to it, but still, something was lost as it seemed to me forever. We became prisoners of our own home.” However, he also notes that it was “the beginning of the path of purification, the path to complete and total freedom.”
It was in the process of getting to know oneself that the "Giant" series appeared. During the quarantine period, I began to create staged self-portraits at home. pic.twitter.com/4UVVvvW59y
The pandemic created a unique set of circumstances that opened up new possibilities, and while they certainly did serve as the only point of inspiration for all the artists discussed in this article, it was a moment of quiet softness that creates a meaningful lens to view this new trend in photography NFTs through.
The giant awakens empathy with his spontaneity and openness. And if the portrait of a person is his story, then the space around the object builds its meaning pic.twitter.com/n2BJbXwjtD
For instance, while borne out of very different unfortunate circumstances, the oeuvre of Matthew Morrocco evokes a similar air of placid but conscientious exploration. Morrocco started taking photographs after going through a difficult time with the passing of his grandmother in 2010, which led him to start making portraits of old men as a means through which to learn about the process of getting older.
In his own description of his practice, Morrocco explains that his “early 20s were colored by anger, frustration and loss,” but, as he “photographed these men, learned their stories—some triumphant, others heartbreaking—” he “gained a fresh perspective on masculinity and aging”. Both Humilevsky and Morrocco’s work present an image of self-aware masculinity intermingled with nudity that we don’t often see examples of, and much less so on the internet.
In the fleeting and over-saturated bubble of the online world there often isn’t much space for patience. In contrast, Morrocco told us how his ‘Complicit’ series is the product of gaining and nourishing people’s trust over a number of years. He explains the insights this process brought him: “really what I learned is that men have a lot more feelings than they are allowed to express in public and that emotional block is a pervasive problem. I look for a certain kind of ‘truth’ when I am taking pictures, and a lot of guys really struggled to show some kind of real emotion to me. I think that’s why it’s so touching when it happens. It was really important to me to make a space for that.” It goes to show that it is indeed possible to tell these stories, even on the internet.
Playing a key role in the process of breaking away further from sexualized nudity are, to no one’s possible surprise, women. Amongst the artists contributing towards a more personal and meaningful perception of the naked physique is Summer Wagner. Her ethereal portraits of figures in woodlands and domestic as well as rural landscapes offer a reprieve from some of the more erotically charged images of women on the NFT-market. Wagner presents the people in her photographs not as objects to be admired, but places them in a context that carries a story that begs telling.
Whereas for most of art history the naked image of women that has been put forward has predominantly been done so and created by men, crypto offers an opportunity for women to not only directly showcase but also profit off their image of themselves without being gatekept by anyone. Wagner’s work shows a very intimate yet unerotic portrait of the human nude in a similar way that Humilevsky and Morrocco do.
Another beautiful example of nude photography in a dreamy aesthetic can be found in the work of Brooke DiDonato. Her work connects the same intimate, domestic and placid themes and adds a layer of the surreal. In particular her series ‘Make Yourself at Home’, echoes a craving for reflection through photography present in NFT-artworks using the nude human form in stylized portraits. DiDonato's works capture how one's getting trapped in the everyday setting. Her OpenSea description explains the photographs as “a series of psychological landscapes reflecting on identity, relationships, turmoil and the changes that are necessary to move forward.” Tellingly, it’s a perspective that could just as well have been used to explore the works of Humilevsky, Morrocco, or Wagner.
The works discussed in this article illustrate how NFTs and the market for digital artworks can push forward our perceptions of our digital surroundings. They shape what nudity can mean within a bubble that otherwise is overrun with images relying on the thought that ‘sex sells’. Instead, these artists show how nudity can be a tool to confront ourselves with our vulnerabilities, our softness and how to gain strength out of quiet reflection.
For all those who think that crypto may corrupt the worlds of art, turning it money-oriented and simplistic - these artworks prove the opposite.
Nina Lissone is the Junior Curator at Electric Artefacts. With a background in journalism and researching counter-culture in the digital arts, her main interests revolve around disembodied context and narrative-building in the Internet Age.
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