Photographer Sacha Dean Bïyan launches a breathtaking new collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) dubbed Visceral. The first volume of Visceral NFTs consists of five of his photographs, each paired with an original haiku by esteemed Japanese poet, Dr. Shunkichi Baba. These five photo-haiku NFTs will be available for purchase starting May 7, 2022, on Pinhole’s partner platform, Rarible marketplace.
The Visceral NFT collection is being released in collaboration with the cutting-edge digital art gallery, Pinhole, which is also working with renowned photographers such as Marco Glaviano on separate NFT drops, and focusing primarily on photography in the NFT space.
In Japanese folklore, a kitsune (fox) has the ability to shapeshift into human form.
I wanted to convey this riddle in the photo.
Is the girl transforming into a fox or is the fox transforming into a girl?
Who is the trickster, the fox or the girl?
—Sacha Dean Bïyan
The First Set of Visceral NFTs
The first volume of Visceral NFTs features only five photographs in Bïyan’s collection that are accompanied by haikus. Moreover, Dr Baba coined one unique haiku per photo, making these NFTs truly exclusive. These pieces are currently on display at the Decentral Art Pavilion’s first international NFT art exhibition during the 59th Venice Biennale. They are also part of a broader collection of images that will be streamed on Apple TV later this year in partnership with the Kyoto City International Foundation.
Each NFT showcases a once-in-a-lifetime experience of Japan during one of the country’s most daunting yet extraordinary times. In the summer of 2020, when Japan closed its border and declared a state of emergency, Bïyan discovered a silver lining to the pandemic.
“In the absence of tourists, I could see the ghosts of Japan’s past,” he explained. “I’d be at a shrine or in an empty alleyway at night, and suddenly, a black cat or a geisha would slip out of the shadows like a throwback to the chiaroscuro films of Kurosawa and Ozu.”
This spring night is electric and makes you do all sorts of crazy and spontaneous things. In Japan, geishas generally adhere to a strict and ancient code of conduct.
For example, they’re still not allowed to own cell phones. So for a geisha to call someone from a phone booth is completely unheard of.
But during the pandemic, in the absence of tourists, many geishas let their hair down, figuratively.
Her body language is revealing, with her toes curled and her fingers twirling the chord. Thereʼs something playful or intimate going on there. A call to love perhaps?
— Sacha Dean Bïyan
Bïyan & Japan
Bïyan shared that although he grew up in North America, he had always been fascinated by Japanese culture. His earliest impressions of Japan were shaped by the cyberpunk imagery of Blade Runner, and the mangas of his childhood. Later, the stories of Kawabata and Murakami and the poetry of Bashō invoked a deeper appreciation of traditional Japanese art and culture. He relocated there from New York City in 2016 to explore what he called his “visceral connection to Japan”. As he explained,
“A friend once told me that Japanese culture dwells in the shadows. Whether it’s tea ceremonies, gardening or architecture, there’s always a conscious appreciation of subtlety — that which is hidden. This sentiment captures the very reason I became a photographer.”
This image was shot in Pontocho Alley in Kyoto, which is famous for its bars, restaurants, and teahouses. Normally, itʼs bustling with locals and tourists — and the occasional geisha.
It was captured right when Kyoto had declared a state of emergency, so in the absence of humans, felines ruled the night.
For many days, I roamed the empty alleys during the wee hours, waiting patiently for them to emerge from the shadows. Sometimes, they struck a pose.
— Sacha Dean Bïyan
To catch a glimpse of Japan’s fabled past, Bïyan was drawn to the ancient city of Kyoto, the center of traditional Japanese art and culture. As one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, Kyoto had its drawbacks though. “Kyoto was overexposed, over-photographed, and overrun by tourists,” Bïyan recalled. “As a result, I rarely picked up my camera.
Four years passed, and I had very little to show for it. Then the pandemic hit. An unusual stillness and hush descended upon the city, and slowly, Kyoto’s true character emerged. I suddenly found myself in an alternate reality, immersed in the most extraordinary setting with all sorts of intriguing characters. Having that Kyoto all to myself was like a dream come true. I seized every moment.”
At first, Bïyan began recording these experiences with his workhorse Hasselblad H6D camera. However, he often found himself reaching for his iPhone, which was quicker and more discreet but lacked the quality he desired. As a compromise, he purchased a Leica M10, a compact 35mm rangefinder camera similar to the one he started out with thirty-five years ago. Soon, he rediscovered a way to photograph with fresh, inspired eyes. “After so many years of working with big crews and bulky equipment, I had developed a rather rigid approach to photography,” Bïyan remarked.
“So, I came to appreciate the simplicity and spontaneity of these in-the-moment shots. I almost felt like a paparazzi. This whole experience brought back the thrill of discovery as when I first started out, which had been lost to me in the world of commercial photography.”
I captured this shot early one morning as a Japanese “hostess” was entering a nightclub. The hostess subculture fascinated me because it doesn’t exist in the West.
I often saw beautiful young, well-dressed girls entering or leaving these secretive clubs late at night in certain areas of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Not only were they selling illusions of love to wealthy gentlemen, they had bought into their own illusions as well.
— Sacha Dean Biyan
Collborating with Dr Shunkichi Baba
Together, Bïyan and Dr Baba take collectors on a riveting visual and emotional journey, unlike any other token. Their collaboration brings to life a modern incarnation of haiga, an art form dating back to 17th-century haiku masters who created simple paintings alongside haiku. These paintings and poems complemented each other and formed a complete visual and artistic expression. Similarly, Bïyan and Dr Baba shared the belief that words and pictures together are more potent than either alone. “Each inspires the other, though neither defines the other,” observed Bïyan. “Both attempt to capture the essence of a moment, a feeling. To me, a photograph is a haiku.”
Accordingly, each of these special edition photo-haiku NFTs transcends the language of images and words and brings us closer to an actual feeling. The owner of these unique NFTs will be transported to an unprecedented and surreal moment in Japan’s history, and will inevitably discover a visceral connection to a deeper mystery.
I conceived this image during my darkest time in Japan. Aside from the doom and gloom that came with the arrival of the pandemic, my wife had a miscarriage around the same time. So this image was symbolic of the beautiful spirit we lost. I imagined it soaring above the barren landscape of my heart, illuminating the darkness, bringing hope.
— Sacha Dean Bïyan
Sacha Dean Bïyan (born October 1, 1967) is a Canadian photographer, filmmaker and author who often describes himself as an Earth pilgrim. His body of work gathered across the globe over three decades, is a celebration of the beauty and diversity of the human spirit. Bïyan holds a Master’s Degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and was an entrepreneur in the aerospace industry before becoming a professional photographer. His editorial images have appeared in GQ, Details, Maxim, Vogue, and Marie Claire. He has shot advertising campaigns for Lexus, Diesel, Adidas and The Gap, among others, as well as documentaries for PBS and the Discovery Channel.
Bïyan’s works have been exhibited in galleries and museums in São Paulo, Florence, Barcelona, Paris and Los Angeles — the latter as a benefit for Amnesty International. He is the author of two fine art books: Spiritus Mundi, published in 2005, which documents his encounters with remote indigenous cultures around the world, and Eccentris, published in 2012, which is a retrospective of his work in fashion and advertising. Bïyan is currently working on his third book, A World Apart — a broader compendium of images, and synthesis of stories of his travels to eighty-eight countries. For more info, visit https://www.sachabiyan.com or follow Sacha on Instagram @sachabiyan.
Dr Shunkichi Baba (born November 25, 1932) is a renowned Japanese haiku poet, and critic of art, theater, cinema and music. He became interested in poetry in junior high school, studying under the haiku master, Keiji Hashimoto. Dr Baba went on to graduate
with a degree in medicine from Nagoya City University where he pursued his career as a professor of otolaryngology. After retiring from teaching, he served as the director of the Nagoya Boston Museum. Despite his busy schedule and diverse interests, he continued writing and publishing his haikus over the years. Dr Baba’s best-known haiku collections are:
Danmen (Cross Section), Barairojigoku (Rose Hell), and Mutyuumu (Dream within a Dream). He is also the author of the book, Somnium Hippocampi, which features one hundred haikus that were translated into Italian by composer, Luigi Cerantola, and turned into an avant-garde opera-style performance held at the Santa Maria Della Pieta in Venice.
Pinhole is a digital art gallery – the new way of collecting photographic art. Established in 2021, Pinhole facilitates the sale of the world’s most iconic photographic work as NFTs. NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are digital recreations of artworks that are unique to their owner and are sold and validated via the Ethereum blockchain using an NFT marketplace. Pinhole has collaborated on NFTs with talents such as Marco Glaviano, Cindy Crawford, Alexis Ren, and more.
Pinhole aims to explore the connection between traditional art and photography, further blurring the divide between art collecting and technology, and ushering in a completely new wave of buyers, collectors, and enthusiasts across the world.