According to Noah Kalina, the best times of year in Lumberland, New York, run from April 15th to June 30th and September 1st to November 5th. Since 2015, he’s been photographing a black walnut tree close to the log cabin where he lives, watching as its leaves bloom, grow, and fall as spring turns to summer and summer to autumn. Those 141 days each year, when the weather is just right and the fog is thick, are his favorites.
In 2021, six years after he first photographed that black walnut tree, Kalina minted 50 of his photographs as part of the Lumberland NFT collection on Foundation. He will continue to release four to five new photographs quarterly starting today. Each year, the number of additional NFTs will be capped at twenty.
Kalina has always been a photographer who takes his time–something of a lost art in the digital age. This series was no different; when photographing the black walnut tree, no ordinary day would do. He waited for the perfect moment, no matter how long it took to arrive.
“When all of the elements line up and the conditions are correct to make a photograph for this series, it’s truly sublime outside,” he says now. “It can feel like a religious experience. There are often weeks and sometimes months when it’s really dull and boring outside, so when it all comes together, it’s an unbeatable experience.”
In the meantime, during those months of waiting, he lived his life. “I have lived in Lumberland full-time since May 2013,” he explains. “I came to this area because it was only a few minutes from Beaver Brook, the place where Cabin Porn (the blog, then book) started, so I had a bunch of friends nearby.
“I built a studio inside of an old barn on my property, so my typical day is mostly spent working in there. If it’s nice outside, I will do things like look at my fruit trees, feed my chickens, or take a walk in the woods. My house is a log cabin, but it’s really just a normal house with all the things that a normal house has. I have very fast internet. Faster than when I was in the city.”
Initially, Kalina wasn’t entirely sold on Web3. “My NFT journey was long and complicated,” he admits. “I think I was tremendously curious about NFTs when I first heard about them in early 2021, but it took me many months to fully grasp what was happening. Early on, it wasn’t that clear how NFTs could be applied to photography, as most of the work that was popular at the time was strictly digital art or memes, most of which I didn’t really like.
“But after seeing a few artists I admire embracing NFTs and figuring out a good way to apply them to their photography, that really helped changed my perspective, and I thought a few of my projects would work well with this new technology. I think NFTs are a natural technical evolution for how we publish (and ultimately consume) digital work on the internet.”
For a pioneer in the photography NFT space, Kalina isn’t especially interested in NFTs in and of themselves. The blockchain is a technology like any other, and he thinks some of the novelty will wear off with time. What matters more to him is how artists might use it–and what it could mean for how photographs are seen and valued in the long run.
“NFTs and the excitement that exists around the technology of Web3 have mostly revitalized my interest in photography and art, especially when it is applied to and consumed through the internet,” he admits. In the age of Web2, photographers shared their work for free, for likes and “exposure.” The pressure to make more and consume more meant that photographs were lost in an endless feed of other images. NFTs could change that.
“I think we’ll see the rush of the financialization wear off, and pretty soon minting an NFT will just be the way you publish new works on the internet (if you want it to be),” Kalina predicts. “It will become less interesting to talk about because it will just be the common way artists choose to publish and track their work online. It won’t primarily be about the financial benefits (although, that doesn’t hurt). It will be more about preservation and tracking provenance.”
In some ways, this idea gets to the heart of Kalina’s work, which in and of itself revolves around the concept of time: fleeting instants, shifting seasons, and the things that remain the same even as the world turns. This notion of time–and change–has influenced the course of the artist’s own life, as he moved to Lumberland from New York City after Hurricane Sandy. It was an event that brought the realities of climate change into sharper focus, and it revealed to him that staying in the city wouldn’t be sustainable long-term.
Lumberland is a place where he can see himself living for many seasons and many years. “I think most people would describe this area as ‘rural’ but it’s not that rural,” he says. “I have one neighbor I can sorta see, but otherwise, I’m pretty much surrounded by a seemingly endless amount of empty land.” There’s a small town three minutes away, and thirty minutes in any direction will bring you into larger towns, where you can find anything you might need.
Perhaps more than anything, Kalina thinks of Lumberland as an act of preservation, even as our surroundings and landscapes continue to change, sometimes beyond our control. It’s about the preservation of this vibrant patch of earth, but perhaps more than that, it’s about his own memories and those rare and sublime moments that pass too quickly in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Each image is marked with the date and time of its creation and the temperature in Lumberland at that exact instant.
“In the not too distant future, I believe the importance of these types of projects will become more clear,” Kalina tells me. “This might seem ridiculous, but we tend to have such a short-term view of our work online. I like to think that some of my work could last on the internet for hundreds of years after I die.” As it happens, the tree itself might still be there too, long after we’re gone. In the right conditions, black walnut trees can live for well over two hundred years.
All images © Noah Kalina