Fintech

Social media made photography cheap. NFTs could make it profitable again.

Justin Aversano thrived selling photographs as NFTs, and now his startup is helping others sell theirs.

Quantum Curated screenshot

Quantum Art is an NFT marketplace for photographers; here is Shawn Theodore's work.

Image: Shawn Theodore/Quantum

Justin Aversano is known for selling one of the highest-grossing photographs ever.

Now he’s going after a much bigger challenge: trying to make photography (and other art) profitable for the many who have felt taken advantage of by the rise of social media and instantly shareable content.

His startup Quantum Art is an NFT marketplace for photographers. The photographs have been moving fast, with about $10 million in total sales so far. The highest price paid was 15 ETH, or more than $47,000.

Bringing offline artists into NFTs so they can pay their bills and live off their work is a striking change for many in the photography world. For the NFT world, which was popularized early on with pixelated, ironic artwork, it means an injection of serious artwork. And for both groups, it’s a striking riposte to the “right-click, save” attitude that’s reflexively dismissive of internet art.

A clear way to sell photography and fight rip-offs is a meaningful change in an industry where photographers typically promote their work on Instagram or other free social media platforms. Aversano sees Quantum as a way to address some of the challenges the internet presents for artists.

“We were getting paid in likes and comments, and all of our works were being devalued because of how scrollable things became, and [we] lost our appreciation for images and made everything disposable,” Aversano said.

Previously, many artists had to pay for their own promotion and hope to get discovered. But now that’s changed, he said.

Screenshot: Quantum Art
Quantum Art's homepage.

While NFTs have become popular for speculators, they have especially taken off for certain types of digital art — think Bored Ape Yacht Club or CryptoPunks selling for millions. But for fine artists who aren’t crypto-native, the crypto model can seem inaccessible.

Aversano had proved for himself that NFTs could work for photography. Last year, he sold 100 NFTs from his photography collection “Twin Flames” with help from crypto experts he met, like investor Gmoney. He originally hoped to pay off his debts for creating the series.

The collection of 100 photographs, each of a different pair of twins, is a tribute to and reflection on Aversano’s own twin who passed away in utero. “Twin Flames” was minted in February 2021 and many of its pieces have sold for sky-high prices. Collectors include Gary Vaynerchuk and Snoop Dogg. And one of the NFTs was sold in a live auction at Christie’s along with printed, physical photographs for $1.1 million.

And one of Aversano’s “Twin Flames” NFTs sold in November for 871 ETH, or just more than $4 million at the time — reportedly one of the most expensive photographs ever sold. The sale’s proceeds of 850 ETH went to RAW DAO, a group set up to help photographers.

With NFT experience under his belt, Aversano co-founded Quantum Art with the help of others he had met working on “Twin Flames.” The goal is to make it possible for other photographers to get paid for their work, he said. It’s an outgrowth of work he’s done to help photographers display their work in person through a nonprofit he co-founded, SaveArtSpace.

Quantum, launched in October, started by selecting one photographer each week to release a series of new NFTs, then promoting the series to Quantum’s community of photography enthusiasts and collectors on Discord. A number of the projects have sold for high prices. Quantum seeks photographers with a unique perspective and a cohesive theme or narrative — the styles range from portraits to landscapes to social justice-themed images to the abstract. Buyers don’t get to choose which photo in the collection they purchase (in order to gamify the system, make it more fun and increase trading, Aversano said).

The community that has grown around Quantum is part of what makes the NFTs so popular, Aversano said. In the traditional art or photography world, the artists, collectors and art enthusiasts don’t always interact, except maybe at an art show. But in Quantum’s Discord, artists will join and meet others to talk about their work and develop relationships, he said.

“Artists take time to craft their style and their signature and their eye,” Aversano said. “And that's why we're seeing more success in Web3 — because people are slowing down. They’re not scrolling, they're paying attention to support photographers' work or all artists' work, and actually value these images more than in Web 2.0, where we were the ones paying corporations to show our work. Now it’s the other way around.”

Aversano now wants to build that community through a series of in-person art hubs, the first of which is planned in Los Angeles, he said. Quantum, which recently raised $7.5 million in series A funding led by True Ventures, also has plans to expand into other forms of art beyond photography, he said.

Policy

How 'Zuck Bucks' saved the 2020 election — and fueled the Big Lie

The true story of how Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $419 million donation became the 2020 election’s most enduring conspiracy theory.

Mark Zuckerberg is smack in the center of one of the 2020 election’s multitudinous conspiracies.

Illustration: Mike McQuade; Photos: Getty Images

If Mark Zuckerberg could have imagined the worst possible outcome of his decision to insert himself into the 2020 election, it might have looked something like the scene that unfolded inside Mar-a-Lago on a steamy evening in early April.

There in a gilded ballroom-turned-theater, MAGA world icons including Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and former president Donald Trump himself were gathered for the premiere of “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.”

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Fintech

From frenzy to fear: Trading apps grapple with anxious investors

After riding the stock-trading wave last year, trading apps like Robinhood have disenchanted customers and jittery investors.

Retail stock trading is still an attractive business, as shown by the news that crypto exchange FTX is dipping its toes in the market by letting some U.S. customers trade stocks.

Photo: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For a brief moment, last year’s GameStop craze made buying and selling stocks cool, even exciting, for a new generation of young investors. Now, that frenzy has turned to fear.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev pointed to “a challenging macro environment” marked by rising prices and interest rates and a slumping market in a call with analysts explaining his company’s lackluster results. The downturn, he said, was something “most of our customers have never experienced in their lifetimes.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Broadcom is reportedly in talks to acquire VMware

It hasn't been long since it left the ownership of Dell Technologies.

Photo: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Broadcom is said to be in discussions with VMware to buy the cloud computing company for as much as $50 billion.

Keep Reading Show less
Jamie Condliffe

Jamie Condliffe ( @jme_c) is the executive editor at Protocol, based in London. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, he worked on the business desk at The New York Times, where he edited the DealBook newsletter and wrote Bits, the weekly tech newsletter. He has previously worked at MIT Technology Review, Gizmodo, and New Scientist, and has held lectureships at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. He also holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Oxford.

Podcasts

Should startups be scared?

Stock market turmoil is making VCs skittish. Could now be the best time to start a company?

Dark times could be ahead for startups.

Photo by Startaê Team on Unsplash

This week, we break down why Elon Musk is tweeting about the S&P 500's ESG rankings — and why he might be right to be mad. Then we discuss how tech companies are failing to prevent mass shootings, and why the new Texas social media law might make it more difficult for platforms to be proactive.

Then Protocol's Biz Carson, author of the weekly VC newsletter Pipeline, joins us to explain the state of venture capital amidst plunging stocks and declining revenues. Should founders start panicking? The answer might surprise you.

Keep Reading Show less
Caitlin McGarry

Caitlin McGarry is the news editor at Protocol.

Latest Stories
Bulletins