Digital artist Mike Winkelmann is one of the originators of the “Everyday” movement in 3D art and has been producing a piece every 24 hours for the last 13 and a half years. He releases each image before midnight and has produced approximately 5,000 of these “Everydays” since he started in 2007.
While working on an assignment for British GQ, Greenville-based photographer Will Crooks had the opportunity to capture portraits of the artist for the 2021 GQ Awards. Will was connected with Mike — a.k.a. Beeple — at a pivotal moment in his career, as his collection “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” made headlines due to the sale of an NFT (non-fungible token) for $69 million.
This new platform for e-commerce is making waves in the digital art-buying world and is inspiring artists to value their digital works in an entirely new way. In selling artwork using NFTs, art collectors can now have unique ownership of these digital mediums, whether they are gifs, videos, or even famous tweets. This enables direct support to artists while also providing stricter usage rights to those who have truly paid for the work.
The chance to work with an artist like Beeple, who is at the forefront of a massive art market shift, is quite humbling.
The name “Beeple” comes from a toy Mike had been given by his grandmother, and the artist couldn’t help but pull the relic out for his portraits. The easy-going energy of a black-tie-wearing Beeple gave Will a deeper insight into his satirical side. He collaborated with the subject on comical ideas — like shooting in a bathroom — that speak to the humorous concepts found in Beeple’s work while still achieving an air of high-brow professionalism.
Mike was down to earth and never took himself too seriously. The best photographs are achieved when you can really get the subject to buy into your concepts and become a creative collaborator during the shoot.
Creatively, my biggest challenge was finding ways to capture his sense of humor and humble nature while also considering the gravity of his position in the art world today.
Will worked closely with the photographic director of British GQ, Robin Key, to come up with two styles of lighting that captured each component of Beeple’s work and his persona. As the artist poses in front of a massive monitor showcasing his wall of prints, Will edited the images to match the cinematic digitally rendered art which gives it a luminous glow.
For our hero image we photographed him in front of a 6ft x 5ft monitor, which proved quite a unique technical challenge.
The second lighting style that Will utilized featured a more graphic and candid approach to the imagery. Beeple styles his work as “art crap” and it often features political, cultural, and surrealist concepts that speak to his unique perception of the world. Given that his workspace lacked any natural light, it added to the darker style that mirrors his humor.
The majority of my personal work involves photographing artists and creatives in their spaces and this aligned well with photographing Beeple in his home and studio space.
Standing with his hands in his pockets for most of the images, Beeple is not your average multi-millionaire. Will appreciated observing the subject in his own space and found Beeple’s humble nature speaks to the way he translates his thoughts into works of art.
I focused heavily on connecting with Mike on a more personal level to break through some of the layers of artifice and formality that sometimes come from shooting someone you don’t know well.
Will was given more time with Beeple than he anticipated and he feels this contributed to the compelling portraits he took that day. As they toured the large studio and production facility, Will learned more about Beeple’s interests outside the art world. Spending time getting to know this artist enabled Will to capture the serendipitous moments that only happen when you let the subject assist in the creative process.
This was an absolute dream project on nearly every front. My passion is photographing artists and creatives across the spectrum in their spaces and getting a window into their process.