“Alec Soth’s Dog Days, Bogotá may not be his most famous project, but it’s one of the most honest and true to him as an artist,” Shane Lavalette and Ashlyn Davis Burns, the co-founders of the gallery, creative studio, and agency Assembly Curated, tell me. “It’s his most personal body of work, and a beautiful story.”
Soth originally made the photographs in 2002, the year he adopted his baby, Carmen Laura. The artist and his wife, Rachel, spent two months in Bogotá, awaiting her arrival as the paperwork made its way through the courts. Inspired by Carmen’s birthmother, who gifted her a book of pictures, poems, and letters, Soth set out to photograph the city of his daughter’s birth–his gift to his child at the beginning of her life.
Two decades later, Assembly released the photographs as a curated NFT drop–Soth’s genesis collection. Comprising 55 images in total, the collection features portraits of lovers; parents; children; houses; landscapes; chickens; a white rabbit; and eleven dogs, old and young, some with homes and many without. The photographs sold out in just under two and half hours.
Since then, Assembly has built and launched a Web3 platform, and they’re also looking to develop a space to host physical exhibitions in the future. As of this writing, they have launched fifteen NFT drops from prominent photographers, including Poulomi Basu, Penelope Umbrico, Cristina Velásquez, Daniel Gordon, Yael Malka, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and many more. A collection by Barbara Bosworth has just dropped today.
“Assembly was the first to introduce curated drops by fine art photographers in the NFT space,” Davis Burns and Lavalette say. “At the time, there were very few established fine art photographers working with NFTs and only a handful of ‘collections’ or projects bringing together cohesive bodies of work.”
Both of Assembly’s founders come from rich backgrounds in photography, with years of experience in the non-profit space, having held leadership positions at the Houston Center for Photography (Davis Burns) and Light Work (Lavalette). The duo launched Assembly in March of 2021, the same month NFTs were thrust into the mainstream spotlight following the $69 million sale of a work by the artist Beeple at Christie’s.
But Davis Burns and Lavalette aren’t interested in the “hype” surrounding NFTs; instead, they’re thinking long-term. “We aren’t selecting artists or work purely based on what we feel will sell,” they admit. “We are interested in artists with distinct visions that respond to our life and times—whether that’s through documentary-oriented projects, lyrical and poetic explorations, or in pushing the language of the medium of photography itself.
“We really have tried to encourage a slower and more in-depth experience that is less about the market or trading and more about the art itself. With every artist, the aim is to bring proper context, education, and engagement with the work in this digital space, much like we would do with exhibitions in the traditional world.”
Going forward, that commitment to education and curation will continue to be a cornerstone of Assembly, as they look to onboard more artists into the NFT space and offer art consulting for collectors and museums. They’re also working with book publishers, galleries, and other institutions, as well as individual photographers.
While the traditional and virtual worlds do overlap, there are some significant differences. “To give just one example, the NFT space has other metrics of ‘value’ at play that aren’t always purely about the art or your past accolades or CV as an artist,” the team at Assembly tells us. “This creates a level playing field for all artists and removes a lot of the gatekeeping that happens in the traditional art world and sometimes prioritizes artists’ ability to build energy and community around their practice.
“It also makes the space very noisy, of course, and encourages artists to promote themselves heavily, which not every artist has the bandwidth or capacity to do. Where we see our value for our role is in curating—which does not mean simply selecting artists or images in our eyes, but actually helping educate and create deeper context around photographic work. Through our own community building and working with collectors, we can also take some of the weight off of the shoulders of individual artists.”
Someday, Davis Burns and Lavalette predict that these early NFTs might be similar to vintage prints, carrying with them a legacy and heritage as unique as physical objects handmade in the darkroom. But at the same time, they’re also soaking in the excitement and newness of it all, understanding the blockchain’s potential for reinvention and rebirth at this singular time in the history of photography.
“Alec admits that he made Dog Days, Bogotá at a moment where he wasn’t yet known or famous as an artist and didn’t know anything about editioning and selling prints,” the team says. “Looking back on it and bringing it into this new NFT space felt like the right project to lead with since he felt similarly about jumping into something new. He also wanted to be sure it was a project that was most authentically himself. We know the work well, of course, but revisiting it now, 20 years after his daughter’s birth, is a moving experience.”
Follow Assembly Curated on Twitter at @AssemblyCurated to stay up-to-date on future projects.