Editor’s note: Some of the artwork in this piece involves urban free solo climbing, which is dangerous and often illegal. Please do not attempt to re-enact or recreate these experiences.
The Urban free solo explorer known as EM.1T believes every person has the right to appreciate the universe from any possible perspective.
"I have a God-given right to see a sunset unobstructed," the photographer explained. "If You stand on the street in New York, you won't see the sunset. You see a tiny sliver of it between two buildings and you get a hint it was there and it is gone."
For him, that means scaling the tallest public buildings without any support or safety nets even if it isn't technically legal to climb them. He started going to rooftops a decade ago to find a peaceful place to have a smoke at the end of the day. Eventually, he began to push himself further and further to find that tranquil moment, only taking photographs and leaving nothing but footprints behind.
"I'm watching the city, and then I found such great meaning and value in those moments going to the roofs that I started to try to do it on my days off to see how far I could take it," he said.
His jaw-dropping, palm-sweat-inducing videos and clips are often shared on Instagram and YouTube. And now, one of his ascents is being sold as an NFT through Superchief Gallery NFT.
"I have a lot of aces in my sleeve that I do not show on social media," he said. "There's all kinds of politics on social media and what you show, and the community is very strict about certain things. But in the NFT, I feel like in some ways it's a more respectable platform and environment than certain apps, and I want to present my work."
NFT stands for non-fungible token. It's a one-of-a-kind item that is stored as a piece of data on a blockchain ledger, made of a unique identifier composed of letters and numbers, and stored in a digital wallet. That ID can hold information like who owns it, who sold it, and when it was sold.
In the art world, not only could it verify a piece's authenticity it could also force continued royalties, Superchief Gallery co-founder Ed Zipco pointed out. His gallery has focused on up-and-coming artists and forms of art, including traditional painters and photographers as well as digital, graffiti, and street artists.
"The artist is paid every time their NFT is sold and sold and resold," he explained. "That's a new thing for the art world in general, and it's something that finally provides a true sustainable ecosystem for artists to have success long term."
Its Superchief Gallery NFT in Manhattan specifically is the first gallery in the world to host NFT art. It's not only hoping to bring the format to the mainstream but find a way to justify the work of digital artists who can now be recognized for their creativity instead of just their ability to create commercial work, Zipco said.
"This is a historical moment," Zipco said. "This is the beginning of the future that we've been seeing in media for the last 40 years. They've been predicting this cyberpunk future, this 'Blade Runner' future where we have holograms and video walls. This is the beginning of that. This is how that gets to happen because there's investment."
Some of the 300 artists that Superchief will feature come from traditional backgrounds like music, photography, or street art. But for EM.1T, he sees the ability to sell his video in a gallery as an NFT as a way to legitimize his work. He said he believes it may pave the way to decriminalize some of the trespassing actions that he and his fellow "explorers" engage in, or perhaps lessen what he feels are excessive charges.
"We do all recognize that it is a crime, some of we're doing," EM.1T admitted. "It is illegal, but at the end of the day, it is the most benevolent crime. It's not something that harms another person if you go to a rooftop and take some photographs."
And eventually, he hopes to turn his passion into his full-time job.
"The goal is always to be able to make a living off of creativity," Em.1T said. "My dream is to be able to sustain myself through creativity, and that's why I paint and draw and also take photos and make videos."