Gregory Eddi Jones on cameraless photography and his NFT journey

Gregory Eddi Jones on cameraless photography and his NFT journey

American artist Gregory Eddi Jones has centred his practice on reimagining what photography can be and do. Using stock and advertising photographs as his source material, Jones's cameraless approach employs digital and physical manipulation strategies to untether the medium from its relationship with truth. In his new book Promise Land, he creates a visual symphony inspired by T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. Pulling from a range of inspirations, from folk pictures and fairy-tale illustrations to surrealism and photo-historical traditions, Jones invites the viewer to think about our relationship to photography in an entirely new way.

With Jones’s work intent on disrupting the conventions of photography and visioning new possibilities, it is no surprise that he was an early advocate for NFTs. Over the last year, the artist has successfully released his first NFT collection and cultivated a new audience around his practice. Here, he tells Capture in his own words about his creative approach, his NFT journey and how Web3 offers endless possibilities for image makers.

On Promise Land

The first picture I made for Promise Land was in 2018. The process dates back to 2015, when I was printing a project at Grad School, and I accidentally loaded the sheet of paper into the printer upside down. When the image came out, the ink was wet. I folded the sheet of paper in half to make this a Rorschach-like inkblot picture, pinned it to my studio wall and just sat with it for a while.

I experimented with the process for a few years to discover what was possible. It got me thinking about the potential to make pictures in which I manipulate wet ink and kind of break down the realism of photography into something that is anti-photographic. I started to embrace this new way of picture-making because it felt like an un-photograph. It pushed against the assumption that a photograph is a source of truth. It was 2018, and I was thinking about this post-truth world we are living through and the Trumpian nightmare - the world just felt so broken. I think a lot of the work came from me wanting to make pictures that felt like they were broken or not functioning in the way they were supposed to.

Desert Treasure

On Process

I use appropriated images, often from stock libraries, and digitally manipulate them. I will then print them and work with the physical ink before scanning them and working with them digitally until I find a resolution for the image. The subject matter and formal strategies vary from picture to picture, so there is a lot of scope within Promise Land, but it's all tied together by the singular voice that comes from manipulating the ink.

On Inspiration

T. S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land, is central to Promise Land and frames the work. He wrote it in 1921, just after World War One, while living in London, experiencing the destruction of the war firsthand. The poem is extraordinary in its ambition and scope of the narrative. It's a collage-like poem, written with many different voices, intertwining old stories with fragments of pop culture. It's filled with allusions to mythology, religion and all these other belief systems. 

The Waste Land felt like Eliot’s attempt to put the world back together again despite being aware that it just wasn't possible. The poem is this disorientating and chaotic mix of culture, and I felt like that was the kind of body of work I wanted to make. I thought about Promise Land as an update to the poem or a visual sequel.

Wandering Stranger III
The Philosopher
I'm interested in exploring the outer boundaries of what photography can be. Thinking about an image like a sculpture - taking my hands into the picture and reshaping it - not just accepting what the camera alone can do.

On Cameraless Image Making

Early on in my career, I realised that the camera wasn't the right tool for me to make the kinds of pictures I wanted to make. I'm interested in exploring the outer boundaries of what photography can be. I'm excited about approaching an image like a sculpture -  just really taking my hands into the picture and reshaping it - not just accepting what the camera alone can do.

Appropriating stock photographs feels like a way for me to have this call and response. I'm looking at the existing visual culture and responding to it or creating a conversation that, in turn, can create a new visual culture. I want all the images to feel familiar, like the kind of images you have seen before, while also landing the viewer in a foreign environment. This type of work would not be possible with a camera, and personally, I feel like photography is so much more than a camera. All this technology surrounding image making - the papers, the printers- is part of the process, and I'm excited about using these tools in alternative ways. I find the camera to be an impersonal, cold, rational device, and I'm looking to make work that is in opposition to those qualities - using the materials in a more physical way to chisel and transform them further.

Untitled, from Family Functions (Fathers and Sons)

Untitled, from Family Functions (Fathers and Sons)

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NFTs immediately appealed to me as an alternative model to the gallery system for selling work.

On Discovering NFTs

NFTs first came on my radar right after that high-profile Beeple sale in March 2021. I immediately looked at it and said, you know this could be a really interesting opportunity for artists - especially for myself, who has never had any real doors open in the traditional gallery world. It immediately appealed to me as an alternative model to the gallery system for selling work.

In October 2021, I released my NFT collection of Promise Land, based on a book I   had just published with Self Publish Be Happy. The NFT sale went really well, and I've been dedicated to the NFT world since. I think it's a good opportunity to sell work and develop a new collector base without navigating the traditional gallery system's gatekeepers.

On Family Functions (Fathers and Sons)

My NFT collection on Capture, called Family Functions (Fathers and Sons), is made with an AI image-generating tool called DALL E, using a text prompt: "A dad with two sons at a lake " as a starting point. It's my first foray into AI. I’m interested in the generational relationship between parents and children and how this connects to photography's relationships with new technology. The warmth of family life comes into conflict with the coldness of digital tools. There's something satisfying about repeatedly approximating such a cliched image - the kind of image that can feel so important on a personal level and yet so common on the macro level. 

On Developing a Web3 Audience

Web3 has created an entirely new audience for photography and art, which I find refreshing. I've found that many collectors don't have a background in art history - instead, they are coming from technology and programming, often early investors in cryptocurrency. These audiences are curious about how work is created, what the inspirations are, and your motivations as an artist. You get this in the traditional photo world too, but I think there is less pretence involved. You could talk about work more casually, in a more accessible way, without the jargon. It's been enjoyable to go to a collector in this space and discuss the project from start to finish.

On Digital Presentations

It was a little challenging for me at first to engage the audience because if you take Promise Land at face value, the images don't look like photographs. They require a little explaining in terms of how I make the work and its theoretical underpinnings. To assist people, I made a PDF and website about the project where I could explain the work in an accessible way. 

I also made a virtual exhibition of Promise Land to support the NFT collection. I wanted to create a virtual experience, an artist-constructed environment, where I could fully control the presentation of the work so audiences could get a sense of it outside the context of a marketplace. I've found that it helps people engage with the project.

Untitled, from Family Functions (Fathers and Sons)

On Overcoming Barriers

It takes time to understand the technology, how the blockchain works, and how to mint an NFT. The cultural side is also important. Promoting NFT projects requires a different approach to the traditional photo world. I always tell people it takes a full commitment to market your work in the Web3 environment, just like it does when you start in any new field. I've always enjoyed the educator role, so I've been teaching and doing some private consulting to support other photographers in finding their way into the space.

On the Creative Possibilities of Web3

When you think about it, the history of photography is the history of technology. I think that with blockchain and NFTs, there's much room for photography to grow into blockchain-native practices. It could be influenced by the culture of existing NFT projects like generative art or by photographers engaging with the technology itself and creating work that couldn't otherwise be made without the use of the blockchain or programming language.

Untitled, from Family Functions (Fathers and Sons)

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