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Jeff Widener is one of the photojournalists who snapped iconic images of Tank Man, the unidentified Chinese protestor who faced down a column of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing on June 5, 1989. Now, Widener has collaborated with the digital artist Marc Craig on a one-of-a-kind digital artwork based on his photograph, which will soon be sold as an NFT.
The artwork, “Tank Man – Jeff Widener & Marc Craig”, will be auctioned for sale on the NFT marketplace Foundation beginning on November 1.
SPY.com spoke with Widener and Craig about the NFT creation process, and you can see the reimagined Tank Man below. (We definitely recommend checking out the full-size image, as the artwork is packed with intricate details that need to be examined up close.)
The creation of the new “Tank Man” is an excellent case study in the growing NFT art movement, which allows anyone to buy and sell art with cryptocurrency, and the “Tank Man” NFT offers a glimpse inside the process.
The Booming NFT Marketplace
The art world isn’t very accessible, but NFTs make it possible for anyone to create, sell, buy and invest in paintings, animations and other virtual or digital creations.
NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, exist at the intersection between art and cryptocurrency, and they are redefining the idea of making and investing in collectibles. With Non-Fungible Tokens, artists can sell virtual images like those pictured below as unique works of art, even if the items exist in the material world or if copies of those same images proliferate online.
The internet is a visual medium, and digital art, photos, memes and animated GIFs can all be shared easily on the web. Those images can spread around the internet and end up as just a simple screen capture or file on your computer. A Non-Fungible Token, once assigned by a blockchain or cryptocurrency site, attaches permanently to the digital artwork and marks it as original and one of a kind. Once official and unique, that NFT allows a buyer to own a digital work of art, even if copies of it exist on hard drives and servers everywhere.
When NFTs began emerging as a popular investment last spring, the ranking site CryptoSlam reported the top five NFTs generated more than $366 million in profit during that period. SPY also wrote about the launch of NBA Top Shot, a marketplace for blockchain-based NBA collectibles that acted as digital basketball cards, and some Top Shot users were able to make a handsome return by getting in on the craze early. While you may not be able to cash in to that degree today, you can still jump into the NFT world on a beginner level, accessing a selection of marketplace and cryptocurrency sites.
More importantly, there’s no reason why you can’t begin buying and selling your own NFTs immediately with no limits set on how much you can make.
Jeff Widener on the Tank Man NFT Creation Process
We have a unique case study based on what promises to be one of the most significant works in years to become an NFT. The NFT of “Tank Man” recreates the stirring and historic scene of one lone man in Tiananmen Square standing against the might of the Chinese military. The photo was initially taken for media use by photojournalist Jeff Widener, and now it’s been artificially adapted for the NFT world by London artist Marc Craig.
In an exclusive interview, Widener says taking an iconic photograph can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
“Most photography galleries have seen my Tank Man photograph as merely a ‘money shot’ while ignoring my other work,” Widener says. “Though my career as a photojournalist has been rewarding, the artistic side of me has wandered down a frustrating path.”
Widener insists photojournalists rarely receive the recognition and respect they deserve in the art markets. Still, his NFT collaboration with Craig allowed them to highlight each other’s skills through a world-famous photograph.
“It is a win, win situation — and I can think of no better talent than Marc to bring this awareness to fruition,” he says.
Craig’s take on Tank Man will officially go on the NFT market on November 1. Before putting it up for sale, Craig needed to get the artwork certified as an NFT. There are a variety of NFT marketplaces such as Rarible and Opensea, and Craig selected Foundation to stamp the NFT and serve as the auction site for interested buyers.
According to artist Marc Craig, the process of creating “Tank Man” included taking the original photographic image that Widener is celebrated for and then slowly building up a digital layer over it, always using the original photograph as a reference.
“Once the basic structure of the digital drawing is in place, it flows very organically and quickly and then takes on a life of its own,” Craig says. “I am very keen on the orange/blue palette because it always makes any image vibrant as the colors are complementary.”
Craig explains that Widener was told that there would be an inevitable backlash if his legendary photo were to become an NFT as an exact copy of the photograph due to the politically sensitive nature of the image in China.
“Still, there was the option via appropriation to turn it into an artwork,” Craig says. “A mutual friend asked me if I would be interested, and I jumped at the idea. It is now going to be minted on November 1.”
Since NFTs exist within the blockchain system, all of their sales and purchases are conducted in cryptocurrency. Artists set their prices in the crypto world, and shoppers pay for their online artwork with the same blockchain tokens of exchange. Widener and Craig look to do their “Tank Man” business in Ethereum. Still, there are countless options beyond the massively valued Bitcoin (the highly established cryptocurrency that started the blockchain movement).
All of those cryptocurrencies can be used to buy and sell NFTs. Some are preferred by individual marketplaces. No matter the NFT connection, these currencies can be cashed out at will into a standard online bank account for purchases and investments in the non-virtual world.
As for the “Tank Man” NFT, anyone interested in the artwork can make bids from 5 p.m. BST (UK) on the Foundation NFT marketplace. Once someone places a bid on the artwork, a 24-hour auction begins. If any bids are made in the final 15 minutes, an extra 15 minutes is added to the auction. The last bid wins.
There’s no preset limit to how high the final price will be for “Tank Man”, but physical prints of the photograph are currently valued at $10,500.