This story is getting a little traction. In a nutshell, an auction house sold a couple of NFTs of some photos. They packaged the NFTs with a print and the original glass plate negative in appealing frames, and included a small brass hammer, and invited the buyer to "make the object permanently digital" by smashing the glass plate.
Fundamentally you're buying: a print, a glass negative, a hammer, and a bunch of fairy dust/hype.
This was remarkably successful, they sold the two for more than $125,000 (if that's NZ money which is not clear at all,
about $USD85,000.) This NFT hype machine is great!
Now, I oppose NFTs and all things crypto. These things are stupid, they are basically scams, they are objectively bad
for the world and for almost everyone involved. Still, this particular one is hilarious.
It is hilarious specifically because of the reaction it has generated from Serious Photography People. I saw one person angry
that you'd destroy "our" history, and of course there is a general outcry about the destruction of negatives. There is, of course,
no particular reason to suppose the buyer will smash the negative.
But let us think on this a bit more. This is basically a rehash of the fetish that surrounds negatives.
The subject of these photos, Charles Goldie, is what one might call a minor artist. His paintings are notable enough to be worth
forging (apparently) but he's not exactly in the pantheon. The paintings go, generally, for low six figures. On another day,
the people so angry about this auction would probably complain that it's all money laundering, but today, Goldie is a Very
Important Historical Figure. So he's not a nobody,
but he's not really an important somebody. The photos in question have been, in various forms, "in circulation" so they are
notable depictions of a minor notable person.
Basically these negatives are not worthless trash, of $5 thrift store finds, but nor are they uber special. A fan of Goldie's might
buy one for small real money. Say, $1000. That would be kind of a niche sale, but maybe it would be doable.
The brutal truth is that negatives like this have no substantive value. They are in no meaningful way history, nor are they
important to our understanding of anything. Whether they survive another 100 minutes or another 100 years literally nobody
is ever going to print from them again, except possibly as a stunt. Thus, they have no direct utility. Excellent scans exist
(largely because of this auction) and we don't need any more. Probably we don't in any meaningful way even need those.
In any future where the scans are lost, nobody cares about a minor
These negatives are, essentially, collectible fan objects, and that's it.
It speaks volumes that the critics of this seem to think (sometimes) that there is a museum involved (there is not) or that the
museum will be smashing the negatives (no museum, and the seller isn't smashing anything) and so on, despite the reportage on
it being invariably short items that describe the situation with perfect clarity.
I am doubly amused that the fetishization of
the negative is being done here largely by people who shoot digital.
The fetishization of negatives is dopey and leads mainly to comedy fun.