By A. Moret
“Run Away With Me” to the analog world of 2wenty whose photographic methods are entirely handmade. Light is a brush; only technology is found in a darkroom of his own making and achieved without any editing programs. “Run Away With Me,” his debut NFT, shines a light on long exposure night photography and the alchemy of photographic methods. The newly minted work invites collectors down the road of the photographic medium as it develops on the blockchain.
For the last two decades, 2wenty has worked in the solace of night, illuminating winding stretches of the highway into a tableau on which to paint words. Conjured by masterful wizardry, bars of light dance across the pavement, disappearing as quickly as they emerge, whilst a celestial tapestry cloaks an indigo sky as the haze of a dense city is left behind. Walking along a road nestled between lush mountains, the artist paints one letter at a time to capture a long exposure photograph while remaining keenly aware of the possibility of an oncoming vehicle rushing at lethal speeds, or a chance encounter with a hitchhiker, each yielding little warning. The juxtaposition of film and language creates a kinetic tension that charges the words with a sense of urgency, calling to us to get on the road and run away to anywhere but here. Locations with unknown coordinates are secondary to the method and the message. Viewers experience the words as if rushing down the highway through 2wenty’s eyes and feel a haunting familiarity as if they may have once traveled there after making a wrong turn, or collected a vestige from a dream about trying to escape.
On the occasion of “Light: A Collective Renewal,” a group exhibition presented by SuperRare in collaboration with ARTREPUBLIC during Art Basel Miami, 2wenty presented his debut NFT. Originally created in 2016, “Run Away With Me” is a stop motion work comprising of 79 stacked long exposures, shining a new light on photography and its power on the blockchain. He has since introduced two additional works from his archive on the SuperRare platform–“Lightman,” which implements a lenticular film technique, and “Miami Beach,” captured during Art Basel in 2021–that present alternate visions of the saturated landscape with light sources acting like incandescent fireworks, leaving a permanent streak of brilliance against the city skyline.
A. Moret: When did your journey as a photographer begin?
2wenty: Near the end of 2011, I bought a camera and started pursuing night/ long exposure photography. I got into it after wanting to make a change from doing street art. There is a different feel to analog–something that digital has a hard time replicating. I also prefer the slower process of shooting and making each photo count, whether it’s on digital or film. Film is also a test of skills and I like the challenge of it.
Anonymity is a facet of your creative process, as you prefer to keep your visage a mystery and work under the moniker 2wenty. What distinction do you make between yourself and your work?
I want the art to stand on its own and I don’t want it to have anything to do with who I am as a person. When I started with street art, that’s the name I settled on. It was a nickname that was given to me.
One of your early images that was used as a tag on the streets of Los Angeles was a graphic of an opened pack of cigarettes bearing the Facebook logo. At the time it was hard to imagine how addicting the platform would become and now it feels rather prophetic.
Art started for me with the “Social Cigarette” image. It was a comment on what I was seeing going on. A lot of people seemed to connect with it and it took off pretty fast.
What is the relationship between landscape and language?
The environment doesn’t play too big of a role for me. My ideas are usually formed without a location in mind. The locations are more of a backdrop to the writing and words.
While the subject of your work is dominantly text dancing across highways and landscapes, in the “Lightman,” a mechanical presence is also a signature motif. Your second work minted on SuperRare, “Lightman,” was first created in 2012, utilizing an old lenticular film camera with long exposure, and presents a striking juxtaposition of machinery and the natural environment. What connection do you feel to “Lightman?”
The “Lightman” acts as a self-portrait. Just a single being in the dark in the middle of nowhere acting as its own light.
At what point did you begin to develop your own film? The chemistry of the darkroom is an art form in itself.
I was having my film developed by a couple of different labs for a few years, but I didn’t like not having full control over the outcome. There would be missed frames during scanning and sometimes I would get cross-processed film without asking for it, not to mention the massive cost. Around 2015 I decided to do it all myself, color and black and white. At the time it was cheaper to buy a developing machine and a lab scanner than it was to develop at a lab. It also gave me the freedom to develop after shooting if I wanted and I didn’t have to wait a week.
What characteristics are most important for you to accentuate during the development process?
I mostly focus on trying to get the highest quality I can out of each roll. Developing is a whole artform unrelated to what the actual photos are. Everything has to be precise to get the most quality from it.
What cameras allow you to most effectively paint with light and maintain long exposures?
Over the last ten years, it’s been a passion to acquire all of the best film cameras. That was feasible up until a couple of years ago. Out of all the point and shoots, the Ricoh GR1v was my favorite, it’s since died and now the Contax T2 is the one I carry around most of the time. I used a lot of them for night photos, but I mainly use a Leica M6. When it’s cold I don’t have to worry about the battery dying because it doesn’t need one. It’s also a lot easier to keep the lens focused in one spot since it’s manual focus only.
There are two distinctive forms of typography in your photographs–one that is created as if with a fine point pen in fluid cursive and the other are bars of light stacked on top of each other. What determines the writing style?
It’s hard to fit a certain amount of words in a frame so I use different styles to achieve that. I either use a single-point light, bar light, or project it.
Night plays many roles in your work as it allows for the light writing technique to be achieved outside, but it’s a part of your process. Have you always been more creative after dark?
My schedule tended to lean more toward staying up very late, even at an early age. It just made sense that I would be drawn to that. Around the time I started, there really wasn’t anyone that I had seen focusing purely on nighttime-only photography and that’s something I wanted to do. I only wanted to focus on taking night photos. I like the calm energy of the night. Everything seems to settle when most people are sleeping.
Rooted in a rich analog practice, the stop motion photographic works by 2wenty shine with a new light on the blockchain that emphasizes the rigors and process inherent to film. The artist’s hand remains a steadying presence even as the photographs transition from physical work to digital artifact. Thanks to 2wenty, the photographic method retains its wonder in the metaverse.