Photography in the Metaverse

Meet the Artists: Kyle Jeffers, Billy Barraclough, Shwe Wutt Hmon, Donavon Smallwood

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Featured in our first drop, these emerging talents – part of British Journal of Photography’s Ones to Watch 2021 – are shaping the landscape of contemporary photography. Now, exclusively via OpenSea, their work is available to buy as unique NFT editions of one

Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones to Watch: a cohort of emerging photographers making outstanding work, selected from a list of over 450 nominations by the world’s leading artists, curators, gallerists, and academics. 

Over the last decade, many of BJP’s Ones to Watch have gone on to lead distinguished careers. Some of fashion photography’s most sought-after names – Nadine Ijiwere, Rafael Pavarotti, and Micaiah Carter, for example – as well as artists revered by the world’s leading galleries, including Jun Ahn, Daisuke Yokota and Charlie Engman. In the eyes of the industry’s leading figures, these are the emerging talents who are shaping the landscape of contemporary photography. 

This week, exclusively via OpenSea, 16 of this year’s talents are each selling a series of five images as unique NFT editions of one. Here, we speak to four of the photographers – Kyle Jeffers, Billy Barraclough, Shwe Wutt Hmon, Donavon Smallwood – about their work, and why they have decided to branch into the world of NFTs.

Kyle Jeffers (Canada)

“Straight from graduation, Kyle showed an extraordinary level of artistic development with a strong signature style. There is a youthful vibe to his work, paired with an elevated production language.”

MaryAnn Camilleri, founder of The Magenta Foundation

Like many budding photographers, Kyle Jeffers’ first camera was his phone. “I was at elementary school, filming skateboarding videos in the driveway,” he says. “I would film as we explored. This developed into photography, and eventually into a career.”

Jeffers graduated from Sheridan College, Ontario, in 2020. Since then he has developed a lively style with visual references originating in the curated, youth-culture accounts popular in the early days of Instagram. These pages blended street, fashion and product photography, creating a digital archive that reflected the aesthetics of growing online subcultures. His own images are populated by bright colours, clean edges and a glossy glamour, and absurdity and humour are always at play.

“Since we live in the world of technology, the accessibility of having my work in a virtual state is great. It allows the work to be viewed through a screen wherever and whenever,” says Jeffers, who has minted five images made during the Covid-19 lockdown. “I found that these images really allowed me to keep my creative juices flowing, even during the trying times and limit access to anything,” he reflects. 

Read more about Jeffers’ work here.

Billy Barraclough (UK)

“Barraclough’s work is both incredibly sophisticated and remarkably tender; it is both visually and emotionally captivating.”

Aaron Shcuman, artist, academic, writer

At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Billy Barraclough stumbled upon a photograph of himself as a young boy, chasing starlings on the beach in Blackpool. As the winter lockdown hit, Barraclough began visiting a local murmuration of birds, as a daily ritual to reconnect with nature. The resulting project is a study of the shape and form of these murmurations – a natural phenomenon that became an apt metaphor for the pursuit of freedom during a time of global crisis.

Now, the project is published as a photobook, and Barraclough has minted a collection of five images from the series. “I wanted to choose a selection of images that were cohesive as a whole,” explains Barraclough. “I wanted the buyer to have the option of buying more than one NFT and I thought the series spoke well to each other.” 

Read more about Barraclough’s work here.

Shwe Wutt Hmon (Myanmar)

“Despite the political climate and lockdowns in Myanmar, Shwe has continued to use photography to tackle physical, emotional and mental issues.”

Emmeline Yong, co-founder and director of Objectifs

“I have to create and stay alive,” says 35-year-old artist Shwe Wutt Hmon. Shwe suffers from the lifelong health condition angiolipomas – a rare type of lipoma – which causes chronic back pain and requires regular hospital visits. However, since the advent of Covid-19 in March 2020, she has been unable to see a doctor. Instead, the photographer has remained in her apartment, often incapable of leaving her bed due to the pain. 

Her resulting project, I Do Miss Hospital Visit, reflects on this experience. She documents past traumas by digitally scanning her scars, presenting these alongside images of decaying flowers and old family photographs. Fragile and wilted, the flowers are a metaphor for her experience during the pandemic: the result of her reluctance to go out and buy fresh bouquets in fear of catching the virus. “[They] resonate with my condition of not being able to visit the hospital and suffering more pain and frustration as a result,” she says.

Read more about Shwe’s work here.

Donavon Smallwood (USA)

“The emotional vulnerability Donavon pulls from his subjects, both animate and inanimate, feels more akin to music: a song that engulfs you in its warmth. A chord that gives you goosebumps. Donavon is a visual poet.”

David Brandon Geeting, artist

Donavon Smallwood has minted five images from his most recent series, Languor – a meditative collection of black and white images, for which the artist won the 2021 Aperture Portfolio Prize. It centres upon New York’s Central Park, picturing Black individuals at rest amid its wide-open landscapes. A portrait of “Black tranquillity,” as Mikelle Street, writing for Aperture, describes it, and one that focuses on young people, who Smallwood found inside and outside of the park, to express the space’s significance in escaping the intensity of the city.

A self-taught photographer, aside from a photography class he took in high school, Smallwood’s voracious study of books and the internet account, in part, for his deep understanding of the medium. “When I first started, early masters like William Eggleston, Walker Evans and Bruce Gilden most interested me,” he says. “I was walking around trying to sneak up in front of people in the street. But after a while, I developed a style of my own.”

Read more about Smallwood’s work here.


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