By Andrew Hayward
Jun 1, 2022Jun 1, 2022
5 min read
Isaac “Drift” Wright’s photography evokes powerful emotions in viewers, depicting death-defying scenes captured from the tops of skyscrapers, bridges, and cranes around the U.S.
Photos from his Ethereum NFT collection “Where My Vans Go” show a fresh pair of kicks dangling over or planted high above scenes like Times Square, pro baseball stadiums, or towering bridges. The stunning shots have made Drift one of the top photographers in the NFT space, yielding millions of dollars’ worth of sales to date.
The images themselves tell a compelling story, but Wright’s own saga has also captivated collectors. A U.S. Army Special Operations veteran, Wright struggled with PTSD and depression, and found that scaling buildings and chronicling his adventures provided relief after his medical retirement from the military.
Goodmorning from Where My Vans Go #92 pic.twitter.com/5I5Nr5FUsZ
— Drift (@DrifterShoots) May 23, 2022
However, climbing such structures without permission also landed him in trouble. Wright was charged with multiple felonies, including burglary, as detailed in a New York Times profile from last June. He spent months in jail amid the legal battle, but ultimately agreed to a plea deal and some of the charges were dropped.
Since then, his star in the NFT space has only risen. His “Where My Vans Go” project now has a starting price of 45 ETH ($86,000) on secondary markets, plus he has collaborated with Time magazine. He also recently sold over 10,000 editions of “First Day Out,” a photo NFT that generated over $6.8 million in sales—including $1 million for nonprofit, The Bail Project.
In May, Drift appeared at entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s inaugural VeeCon NFT conference, where he appeared on a panel with other notable creators. Afterward, he was surrounded by fans and signed numerous pairs of Vans sneakers.
“It feels like something I always knew was going to happen—I just didn’t know it was going to happen so fast,” he told Decrypt at the event, discussing the skyrocketing attention for his work. “You know, a lot of these things are things that I used to close my eyes and see. So it doesn't feel out of place. I feel very at home.”
Signed so many pairs of Vans today, some moments in time let you know the world is receiving you and your vision as an artist and they’re special. Thankful for this journey. pic.twitter.com/4NwnYtX1Yb
— Drift (@DrifterShoots) May 22, 2022
An NFT serves as a proof of ownership and is often used for digital items such as artwork, photos, and collectibles. Even if he was confident about his work before his photos became sought-after NFTs and made him one of the scene's brightest stars, Drift said that the reality of the situation has been powerful for him as a creator.
“It’s been affirming as an artist that what I’m putting out, the world is feeling,” he said. “That’s affirmation to me that what I'm doing is right, and I don't need to change anything. I just need to continue being an artist.”
That’s the plan for Drift, but it could be a while before we see his next artwork—at least in the NFT space. Drift told Decrypt that he’s entering “a big quiet period” right now, and that he’s focused on continuing the momentum around “Where My Vans Go,” which has continued to sell pieces from the 123-photo collection amid the recent market downturn.
He has started working on a new single-edition NFT photo collection, but said that he's “a long way out” from releasing it. In the meantime, Drift is exploring other ways to tell his story that are “outside the [NFT] space” and “more Web2” in nature.
One of those storytelling avenues could come through a collaboration with Vans, the shoe and apparel company that unofficially features prominently in his photography. At VeeCon, Drift teased that he’s in talks with the firm, but he told Decrypt that nothing has been finalized.
Goodmorning can I get a vibe check real quick? pic.twitter.com/H43Qkt1Mzy
— Drift (@DrifterShoots) May 26, 2022
“Whether it will pan out or not, we’ll see,” he said. “Vans is a big corporate company, and for them to assume the risk of supporting my work openly is challenging. If we can jump through those hoops and loops, then we can make it happen. That's really what seems to be the roadblock right now.”
The NFT photography space started to catch fire last summer and into the fall, with artist Justin Aversano and his “Twin Flames” project yielding millions in sales and attracting prominent holders en route to a splashy auction at Sotheby’s. Photographers like Drift, Cath Samard, and Dave Krugman also started grabbing attention in the NFT space during that time.
That activity led to an explosion of activity in the photo NFT space, and dedicated platforms like Sloika and Aversano’s Quantum Art have sprung up to support such creators.
But in Drift’s view, the NFT photography market has become oversaturated, with a glut of artists all vying for attention and cash. Drift told Decrypt that he’s seen fewer standout collections and creators amid the swell of content.
“Honestly, I haven’t been that impressed with photography NFTs as of late. I feel like we saw a good run last summer and fall, but 2022 has been slower,” he said. “We aren’t seeing the quality of work. I think there’s good quality photographers out there, but it’s harder for people to find them because of how congested it’s gotten.”
“I want to see more innovation,” he added. “I want to see people taking work further.”
Drift said that the onus is on artists to create compelling content and stand out from the pack, rather than solely the job of platforms and marketplaces to elevate the cream of the crop. Too many photographers aren’t telling a strong enough story with their NFT work, Drift said, but he believes that many artists will recognize the need to step up their game.
“What are you trying to say with your work? I feel like that’s missing a lot. A lot of people are like, ‘Here’s my work. Buy it.’ And that’s not satisfactory to me,” he explained. “I have been a little disappointed, but I think that we’ll see that change because a lot of photographers are going to realize, like, ‘I need to dig deeper.’”