Rhiannon Adam on chasing utopia and the potential of Web3

Rhiannon Adam on chasing utopia and the potential of Web3

Rhiannon Adam grew up at sea, and the consequences of this nomadic existence continue to inform every facet of her creative practice. As an artist, she revels in uncovering people's stories, finding kinship in collaboration and experimenting with new modes of making. She tells Capture about her love of Polaroids, what she’s discovered about making NFTs and why it's vital for artists to explore new worlds.

It's often only with hindsight that we can pinpoint life’s defining moments. For London-based artist Rhiannon Adam, that was a windy weekend in September when she was seven years old. Her father, a shipwright, spontaneously bought a sailing boat named Jannes off a pub noticeboard in Kinsale, Ireland. They uprooted, selling all of their belongings to follow his dream of a utopian life at sea. Convincing a young girl to abandon her life and everything she knew was no easy task. So her father gifted her a copy of The Mutiny on the Bounty, promising her a rip-roaring adventure.

Cushana and the Frigates, Big Fence/ Rhiannon Adam

Rhiannon spent a decade aboard Jannes, but the reality of nomadic life was far from her father's promise. She struggled without her friends, having no means of communication and limited freedom. The challenge of living modestly at sea also comes with the reality of no refrigeration or shower and limited electricity. Her father's paradise simultaneously became Rhiannon's nightmare. She escaped the boat in her teens, desperate to get back into formal education. After a stint in a London secondary school, she studied at St Martin's College of Art and later read English at Cambridge.

Photography holds a talismanic quality for Rhiannon due to the painful reality that little photographic evidence of her early life exists. This ignited a lifelong fascination with the medium and how it manifests as a physical object, influences memory, and operates at the intersection of fact and fiction. These themes continue to inform her practice, particularly in her renowned work Big Fence: Pitcairn Island. The project, exhibited at London’s prestigious Photographers Gallery, follows the remote island community of Pitcairn in the South Pacific in a fraught series of events as islanders chase their own ideas of utopia.

Ship's Landing Point, Big Fence/ Rhiannon Adam
The work is all about the idea of utopia or running away from something. This notion that the grass is always greener and then finding out it often isn't.

As a part of her varied practice, Rhiannon has published three photobooks, founded the imprint 'Lost Cat', and is the resident curator of Gallery One and a Half in Hackney, East London. She lectures, teaches and runs workshops alongside her art, editorial and commercial practice. In 2020, Rhiannon also began experimenting with Web3, translating her love of Polaroids into coveted NFTs.

Swingset, Bombay Beach/ Rhiannon Adam

Pier, San Francisco/ Rhiannon Adam

Available to download now

Capture the journey behind every photo

Apple App StoreGoogle Play Store
CAPTURE: How was your upbringing informed your creative process?

RHIANNON ADAM: A lot of the underlying ideas I have are hang-ups from how I grew up. The work is all about the idea of utopia or running away from something. This notion that the grass is always greener and then finding out it often isn't. Those terms have defined my whole life, and I've always been drawn to making work about it. 

I don’t have a lot of contact with my parents, and I don't have any siblings, so I think the solitude of being an only child leaves you craving socialisation. I’ve always found myself drawn to strangers and love listening to their stories and figuring out what makes them tick. As much as we all try to escape our personal histories, it just becomes impossible to do so.

What drew you to social documentary?

I want to unravel complex ideas and issues. I also like to approach projects in a meandering way without having a predetermined notion of where I will end up. Social documentary facilitated all of this.  

Alongside your large format film work, you have this obsession with Polaroid. You even published Polaroid: The Missing Manual, The Complete Creative Guide with Thames & Hudson. What captivates you about the medium?

I did work experience with a TV company that used Polaroids to aid continuity between takes. I became friends with the people in the stock room, who would give me boxes of film to take home. So, I had this ongoing supply at a young age and became obsessed.

These days I'm much more strategic in how I use it. Culturally, the Polaroid has a particular meaning. It remains a shorthand for nostalgia, mythology and romanticism. I use it sparingly alongside my film work on projects that echo these ideas. I also only use deadstock, so with every year, it's more expired. There is something poetic about using something that exists in a constant state of demise.

Randy, Joey, and Marlene at Coney Island/ Rhiannon Adam
Web3 liberates you from all the rules of the physical world.
You’ve been exploring Web3 and creating NFTs for a few years now, many of which are Polaroids. What inspired you to converge these two modes of making?

The ephemeral nature of the Polaroid is fascinating to me, and the fact that it can only ever exist in one place at one time. In some ways, I think there's a direct correlation between the mediums. They both carry this idea of being a complete one-off. Polaroids have this irrefutable record. The number on the back illustrates the location, factory, and machine number where it was made. An NFT is a digital translation of that experience.

There is this conflation of space and time with a polaroid that doesn't exist in any other format. A polaroid is a physical object held by the photographer at the exact moment the picture was taken. The volatility of the chemical process further embodies this. If you hold a polaroid too tightly, it leaves a mark on the image. You can tell if it was a hot or cold day based on how the chemistry reacts. It becomes codified by our interaction. In that way,  It unlocks memories that are far beyond what is inside the frame.

Despite being worlds apart, this synergy of Polaroids and NFTs having distinct origin stories weirdly connects them. I love the idea of this generative image that moves around people's wallets, leaving a visible trace of where it's been.

What excites you about the potential of Web3 in the context of photography’s future?

I see Web3 as a way of streamlining processes that we all spend far too long worrying about. It can free us up to make work rather than worry about things like provenance. One of the reasons I value the Polaroid is because it's a technology trying to prove provenance. I love the idea that NFTs are digital originals. It seems like a logical way of being able to deal with the problems we have now concerning rights, usage and how files circulate. I'm interested in the capabilities and possibilities of blockchain as a problem-solving tool.

In your opinion, what are the creative possibilities of Web3?

NFTs don't have an aesthetic code yet. Unlike the photo industry, there aren't gatekeepers or pre-defined expectations of how you should work. I like to think of an NFT as an empty box that you can put anything inside. In my experience, creating work for a screen enables new possibilities. In a way, Web3 liberates you from all the rules of the physical world. As photographers, we are constantly told we must work in a series, whereas NFTs offer a space to play and create exciting one-offs.

The outcome can vary as well. Of course, you can sell the work, but you can also use the blockchain to record your progress, like a sketchbook. I've seen people list work so it can be viewed publicly, and that's the final act, similar to how we view work in a museum. I think that as time goes on, the possibilities of Web3 are going to broaden and get even better. It's a brilliant way, for instance, to archive an exhibition. You could create a metaverse version of your show, preserving the experience long after the physical exhibition closes while also enabling the work to be more accessible.

Know more about Rhiannon Adam

Website :

Socials : Instagram | Twitter

Visit Rhiannon Adam exhibition on Numberverse to learn more about the stories behind each photo.

Download Capture app today to see and collect more creations from Rhiannon Adam.

Copied link