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What is it about Bitcoin, and what is the story behind cryptocurrencies? And how have Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) changed the art market? Danny Franzreb doesn't offer concrete answers, but these are the very questions that interest him in his own research. As a photographer, he takes a different, more visual and descriptive approach to gaining insight. He isn't trying to settle the controversy surrounding a few weirdos' idea of utopia, while they sit in their basements destroying the environment by using a technology that consumes more energy than entire cities and countries.

With the goal of visually shedding light on the cryptic darkness, Franzreb set out on a year-long journey during the boom phase of cryptocurrencies, between 2021 and 2022. He met with miners, investors and fortune seekers who wanted to seize, early on, the opportunities presented by these digital currencies. His travels took him from Germany to the Netherlands; then, to Russia, Belgium, Austria and Sweden. His powerful images document places and people: from small basement prospectors to industrial mining farms; from installations, refrigeration units, forests of cables and Russian industrial ruins to high-tech factories with sustainable production in Sweden.

Proof of Work offers a better understanding of blockchain and the most recent bitcoin hype. The texts not only give the location of the individual motifs, but also create a closeness to the people portrayed. It turns out that the currency exchange system, which has no physically tangible form, is not so abstract, after all: it becomes very concrete, thanks to producers from all walks of life, in the various countries Franzreb visited. It evolves into something mundane, while also remaining mysterious. Above all, the picture series manages to give visual expression to the human factor behind the most abstract or advanced technological phenomena – with all their temptations and dangers.

Born in 1979, Danny Franzreb is a photographer and Professor of Design at Neu-Ulm College in Germany. His pictures are supplemented with texts by author Holly Roussell (Specialist for Contemporary Art and Photography, and Curator at the UCCA, Center for Contemporary Art, China); and Anika Meier (curator and author with an emphasis on digital art and NFTs, Hamburg). The texts further expand the context and, in particular, question the supposed and much-heralded revolution of the art market.

Blockchain, wallets, cryptocurrencies, NFTs: what are criteria for good or bad digital art? Standards have long existed for photography. In Franzreb's convincing images, the "mines" are depicted vividly. Quite aside from their content, they are also captured with great precision; the photographer offers clarity, insight and an overview. This is a pleasing start, regardless of whether the long-proclaimed demise of NFTs comes about, or the hype continues. (Ulrich Rüter)

Danny Franzreb: Proof of Work
176 pages, 72 colour pictures, 21 x 29 cm, German/English
Texts by Holly Roussell and Anika Meier
Design: Nicolas Polli
Hartmann Books

All images on this page: © 2023 Danny Franzreb – Franzreb GmbH
Various computer systems for crypto mining. Location: Eygelshoven, Netherlands
Satellite system for connection to the global network. Location: Eygelshoven, Netherlands
Custom setup of graphics cards for mining Ether. Location: Triftern, Germany
One of 120 mine workers from Nadvoitsy. Location: Nadvoitsy, Russia
Cables from crypto miners that are still being connected. Location: Nadvoitsy, Russia
One of the longest crypto mines in the world (360 meters long). Location: Nadvoitsy, Russia
Mine worker wearing thermal clothing and hearing protection. Location: Irkutsk, Russia
Prototype for growing lettuce in a vertical greenhouse. Location: Boden, Sweden
Ellinor, founder of a vertical farming startup. Location: Boden, Sweden
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