From cradle to grave, we are constantly monitored. Some people have faith that this is done by a deity with all-knowing eyes, but today, there is something more tangible: the omnipresent eye of the camera. From the moment we come into this world to the moment we depart it, the camera watches us. And hell, if you’re buried in a ritzy cemetery, it may be watching the top of your plot as your bones decay. This state of constant surveillance is the theme of ripcache, an anonymous digital artist who has caught the attention of the NFT community and beyond.
Like many, I spend an inordinate amount of time on NFT Twitter. I love to see the hot takes, controversy du jour, and the opinions of folks from my online communities. I also like to use Twitter to try to uncover gems of truth, a breadcrumb to the next big thing. However, due to the algorithm and my own limitations, I rarely discover something before it becomes popular. I’m often smacked square in the face by it from a cadre of people I follow with discerning taste. This is what happened with ripcache, who was seemingly everywhere at the start of the New Year and not just among the people I trust the most.
This post examines how ripcache has cultivated the surveillance camera as the symbol that may become emblematic of our time, his¹ utilization of mediums to increase the symbol’s power, and how he created a community of enthusiastic followers and collectors eager to obtain his work.
Under the Eye: The Transformation of Surveillance Cameras and Society
I used to not pay much attention to security cameras. They were just something at border crossing stations or airports. Then cameras started popping up inside stores followed by mobile units outside. Schools, gas stations, private homes, and public spaces all began to have security cameras. We even had cameras watching animals at the zoo and monitoring our toddlers at daycare. Then we brought the cameras into our home—Ring and Nest doorbells to make certain that our packages are safe.
At the same time, digital cameras evolved from bulky devices (remember the Sony Mavica?) to compact point-and-shoot cameras. However, connecting them to the web was still difficult, especially in real-time. You had to go home, edit your photos, and spend hours uploading them to your custom HTML website. As technology improved, we started having cameras that could connect to the web on our mobile devices. The pixelated camera on flip phones was replaced by the static camera on the first iPhone and then by a video camera on the iPhone 3GS. Text messages evolved from SMS to MMS to social media uploads and streaming. Whether or not your device had a connected camera no longer mattered—there were dozens other in the room at the ready to record.
The widespread use of cameras has had a significant impact on the world’s youth. They can no longer make mistakes or embarrass themselves in private. They are always on display, with someone ready to record and share their actions with friends and strangers alike. Private home videos have become material for revenge porn, causing people to be shamed for an intimate act that they did not consent to being made public. Young people are making the same mistakes that we all did, but the consequences are much greater under the watchful eye of a camera that won’t let them forget.
Undoubtedly, the widespread use of cameras has had a transformative impact on society. They have provided a way to document police brutality and bring justice to the oppressed, allowed protests to reach beyond physical spaces, and provided concrete evidence of corruption and theft. An all-seeing eye captures everything, just as rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike.
Just as the Campbell’s soup can became a symbol of consumerism and everyday life, the hooded camera has become a symbol of the surveillance state. Similar to Warhol, ripcache is presenting this symbol to an audience, encouraging them to question its significance.
Symbolizing Surveillance: The Medium Matters in Ripcache’s Art
But creating pastel or oil paintings of surveillance cameras doesn’t have the same impact as showcasing those symbols in digital formats on the blockchain. Ripcache understands that we are not just being monitored in the physical world, but also constantly monitored in the digital realm.
Every online action we take is being compiled into bits and bytes and sold to the highest bidder as a form of surveillance capitalism, as described by Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff. We can’t even like a photo, stream a song, or make a purchase without someone knowing what we are doing. Our “free” and discounted digital services are actually being funded by our personal data. Forget cryptocurrency, our digital breadcrumbs have become the new currency.
That’s why placing his security cameras on the blockchain is a stroke of genius, particularly those that ripcache has chosen to store permanently on-chain. Despite the many benefits of the public ledger, it also serves as a voyeur’s paradise. You can see the exact worth of an Ethereum wallet, the digital assets it holds, and the other wallets it has interacted with, at any moment. All of this data is stored permanently on the blockchain, with no option to “delete my data.” It remains online, irrefutable, and incorruptible.
Many of us who have a basic understanding of Etherscan have used the blockchain to research who has bought what. We try to uncover the secrets of trendsetters and multi-millionaires. But what happens when more organizations, government entities, and questionable characters (even more so than the grifters that plague the space today) transition to web3? What happens when all of these digital breadcrumbs can be connected, analyzed, interpreted, and utilized for purposes ranging from selling you a waffle iron to maliciously trying to control your thoughts?
These are important questions that, in our excitement for this revolutionary technology, many of us haven’t taken the time to consider. However, ripcache’s series of cameras can prompt us to reflect on the extent of our surveillance and how we are being monitored.
Understanding Ripcache’s Community-Focused Approach
Although I’m not an art critic or curator, I cannot deny the impact of how ripcache has repurposed this symbol and displayed it on the blockchain. Just as anyone with a basic knowledge of art history cannot “unsee” a Campbell’s soup can and associate it with Warhol, a water lily with Monet, or a balloon dog with Koons, I cannot unsee ripcache in every surveillance camera I encounter. This was a deliberate choice by the artist, not a coincidence.
In early 2023, I noticed an influx of surveillance cameras in my social media feed. These cameras, which have long monitored me in the physical world, were now appearing on my Twitter stream, a manefistation of how I am watched online. In the posts of these cameras I noticed that the account @ripcache was tagged—I started digging into his work and was blown away. A fellow Blitmap holder and co-founder of 1337 Skulls, Flashrekt, was an early collector of ripcache’s work. And one thing that is clear about Flashrekt is that he has a sharp eye for unique and exceptional pieces.
I began digging more into the back catalogue and saw folks like XCOPY and Snowfro praise ripcache’s work. I saw that this adoration was warranted rather than simply someone pumping their bags. In addition to making a living as an artist, ripcache was saying something.
The one lesson that other artists can learn from ripcache is the way he cultivates his community. I’ve heard multiple accounts of how he reached out to people through direct messages when he first started out (unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people, or I might have owned a 1/1!). Despite his success, ripcache continues to engage and respond to his audience, both publicly and through private DMs. This level of interaction is uncommon and likely unsustainable—but for now, he continues to reach out and connect with his fans.
Ripcache’s masterful strategy was to motivate his community to not only share his artwork, but also his subject matter. He offered them opportunities to join his allow list by sharing photos of security cameras or creating them through AI (which is how I obtained the SMILE piece by ripcache). This linked the physical security camera to the artwork he was making: the association is now burned in many a degen’s mind.
But ripcache has also been generous, selling his pieces to the allow list for a fraction of what they go for on the open market. SMILE sold for 0.69420 Ethereum to those ripcache set up for a private sale; the piece routinely sells over 5ETH on the secondary market. He has allowed holders to nominate others to be on the allow list and does many giveaways.
Although it’s unclear if ripcache holds a Blitmap NFT, he certainly seems to have connections to the Blitmap community² and is aware of the work Dom Hofmann. This is evident in a recent article by daata where ripcache quoted Hofmann’s “Michelin Guide” to on-chain art. Whether intentional or not, ripcache has also demonstrated a similar characteristic to Hofmann that I find particularly appealing: not being overly protective of his creations.
I can’t remember whether Hofmann mentioned this in the Blitmap server or in an interview, but I have a memory of him saying not to be too “precious” with what you create. This perspective laid the groundwork in creating a very positive and active community. For example, in the early days of Blitmap, Hofmann traded one of the 100 original pieces to a holder and gave another away in a naming contest for the Blitnauts. Instead of keeping his creations to himself, he has been generous with them, which has paid dividends in developing a passionate community. Ripcache seems to have taken a similar approach, and aspiring artists should take note: there is a certain reputation one can establish by being generous with their work.
It’s a clichéd web3 saying, but it is still true: we are early. Like all movements, it’s hard to determine who will become part of the artistic canon of the time when you are living in the middle of it; yet it becomes painstakingly obvious years down the road. owever, given ripcache’s ability to tap into a symbol that could very well define our era, his use of the blockchain as a medium to convey the message of surveillance, and his dedicated group of collectors (many of whom are considered “OGs”), I have no doubt that he will be a talked-about artist in the coming years.
This is not financial advice, nor should be construed as such. Disclosure: I currently hold one of the SMILE pieces that ripcache released as an edition.
1: I reached out to the artist to confirm that he/him along with they/them is acceptable.
2: In addition to Blitmap holder Flashrekt, kaeshamarie tweeted recently that she was the first purchase of ripcache’s Closed Caption on the blockchain. I have also heard from other Blitmap holders that ripcache reached out to them early on.