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Photography and the Metaverse

What are the significance and consequences of virtual parallel worlds for photography? A utopia.

Where should the next photo vacation go? To the Alps or perhaps to Japan? In terms of exoticism, the decision should be easy - but given the travel costs and the large amount of time involved, you might decide on the cheaper option in the mountains at home. And which camera should I take with me? Really the heavy SLR with the three interchangeable lenses? Or better a lighter system camera? Or maybe just the small compact camera with a fixed focal length?

Deciding means doing without - photographers can tell you a thing or two about that. But what if traveling in the future were not a question of money, but only of a stable and fast Internet connection? And what if I could take all my photographic equipment with me wherever I go, but without having to carry it? The virtual world and the metaverse make it possible.

Vacation with VR glasses
Ever since Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the revolution of the Internet, there has been intense speculation about the possibilities offered by virtual parallel universes in which we can move and, above all, interact with the help of VR glasses and avatars. While technology nerds, early adopters and digital natives are already rubbing their hands, others may be waving it off and wondering what benefit they are supposed to derive from a virtual world. But there were similar doubts when the personal computer, the smartphone and digital conference rooms like Zoom were established - and it's hard to imagine our everyday lives without all of these. 

But what exactly do these changes and new possibilities mean for photographers, the camera industry, and the entire photography scene in general? Three points stand out in particular:

1. virtual presences and NFT wearables.

In Decentraland, a decentralized 3D platform for virtual reality that has already existed since 2015, major companies such as Samsung, Victorias Secret, Skechers and JP Morgan have long staked their claims and set up branches. The venerable auction house Sotheby's (founded in 1744!) has created a virtual replica of its London headquarters on Bond Street, and its "doorman" Hans Lomulder greets visitors at the entrance. NFT art is on display in the store and can be purchased there. Melbourne Park has already been recreated for Decentraland, and multi-day music festivals and a fashion week have been held. At the latter, cosmetics company Estée Lauder gave away its "Advanced Night Repair" face serum as an NFT wearable - owners can use it to "give their avatars a luminous, radiant aura," it says. This may just be a silly gimmick, but what's to stop the big camera manufacturers from offering their products in the future as NFTs that you can not only strap on to your avatar, but actually take pictures with in the metaverse? Via the VR glasses, which are needed for use anyway, not only the design but also all functions could be simulated and tried out - right up to the "real" purchase of the camera, which we could then use in the physical world just as we do in the virtual one. Every camera and lens once purchased could be licensed as an NFT via the original serial number and used virtually. This way, you would always have your entire equipment with you and ready to use in the metaverse. Which brings us to point two.

2. photographs can also be taken in the virtual world

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already caused wild speculation with his vision of his own Metaverse. In the social app Horizon Worlds, which has also been available in Europe for a few months, more than 10,000 individual worlds have already been created. They all still look very simple graphically, but anyone who has played open-world games like GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2 will certainly have had an itch in his or her trigger finger from time to time when seeing the realistic presentation. So it's no wonder that the development studio Rockstar Games has already implemented the possibility to take pictures with a camera during the game in both games. The huge range of locations, weather and lighting conditions, and the sheer endless possibilities of interactions with other real players as well as AI-controlled animals and characters is already absolutely fascinating. And because all of these worlds are ultimately just a link away from each other, nothing would stand in the way of a trip to Japan or the American Wild West - provided someone took the trouble to create them. 
That's why it seems to be only a matter of time before the first big photo contests are held in a metaverse, for which people stroll through hyperrealistic worlds with their own photo equipment and wait for something like the "decisive moment. 

3. presenting and trading your own photographs as NFTs

Many photographers, such as Cristina De Middel and Aimos Vasquez, sell digital ownership certificates of their work on platforms such as OpenSea and Rarible, in addition to their physical prints. But those who own NFTs may also want to show them to other people. That can be done simply as a list view on a website - but it's much nicer and more entertaining to hang the images on virtual walls and share them with friends and strangers to look at and talk shop. If you can also hold a virtual glass of crémant in your hand and dangle your Leica around your neck, the vernissage mood would be perfect. 

All of this is already possible today in the metaverse: in self-organized photo exhibitions, in galleries and in museums. Whether there will also be red dots on the walls in the virtual rooms when works of art have been sold remains to be seen. At least it would be in keeping with the style.