London photographer Abby Scarlet has embarked on a six month challenge during which she will only accept work from clients willing to pay her in bitcoin.
Sitting in her colourful studio in a warehouse in North London, Scarlet – who's approximately two weeks into her bitcoin-only endeavour – opened up about her discovery of the digital currency and her personal quest to spread its adoption.
"I was thrown into bitcoin head-first," said Scarlet.
Anecdotally, Scarlet explained how she shared a house in Brighton – a seaside hotspot in the UK – with a bitcoin miner and a bitcoin enthusiast last year.
"He [the bitcoin miner] had all these machines and I didn't know what they were. I actually turned them off when I got home once because they were making so much noise. He came in and started yelling, asking what I was doing. I didn't realise he was actually mining digital currency."
Though her initial introduction to bitcoin was somewhat humorous, Scarlet now refers to the currency as "mind blowing", noting how it can be used to do good in the world.
What really sold her, however, was the community built around bitcoin.
"I was exposed to all the reddit and sub-reddit forums. Reading how the people in bitcoin were supportive of each other, how some took on voluntary roles without payment as an incentive really caught my attention. I have never been part of such a huge community where everyone wants to help each other."
The photographer reiterated that the bitcoin community had "been amazing, really uplifting" following the announcement of her challenge.
Spreading the word
This is not the first time Scarlet has set out to spread the word about the digital currency.
While living in Brighton, she had helped Flawless Clothing, a local shop, get its first bitcoin ATM.
One could argue that her open-minded approach and her unique way of seeing the world through her camera lens were the driving forces behind her bitcoin challenge.
"I believe that artists see the world slightly different to people who don't practise art. Maybe we see a light in something that nobody else really sees, perhaps with bitcoin its the same."
It soon became apparent, however, that her bitcoin-only adventure is much more than an artistic vision. Scarlet is not just talk, she's action.
Having realised how bitcoin could potentially transform traditional finance, she decided to take matters into her own hands, telling clients about the digital currency and outlining its benefits.
"There is a live music event that I photograph every month, I told the organisers about bitcoin, got them in touch with trader friends and now their flyers include the bitcoin symbol and they accept it at their food and bar stalls at gigs. They have been really supportive of me."
Shooting for bitcoin
However, Scarlet's challenge is not without risks. She was fully aware that it could potentially result in the loss of her frequent clients, mainly model portraits and wedding shoots.
When asked about whether she would turn away clients unwilling to pay in bitcoin, she said: "Unfortunately, I have to. I have been really trying to, not convert people to bitcoin, but ease them into it and show them how it all works."
She noted that her business has not suffered dramatically, quickly pointing out that her workload remains "more or less" the same as when she was also accepting payment in fiat.
Scarlet is currently contracted by Fork the Banks, a charity album released by Occupy London, a movement that fights for a new political and economic order that prioritises people, democracy and the environment over profit.
During her interview with CoinDesk, Scarlet shot UrbanD Soul, for the project. Both musicians, Romain and Enji told CoinDesk they liked the idea of bitcoin but were not entirely convinced.
Romain said: "Perhaps I am too French to believe in bitcoin."
It was not all skepticism on the shoot, however. Lee Smith, project manager at Fork the Banks, told a different story, noting how the digital currency and the blockchain could potentially overhaul the art world, giving artists more control over the work and their revenue.
Smith will be paying Scarlet in bitcoin. He said:
"Everything that empowers the people and frees us from the middle man is a good idea."
Scarlet has undoubtedly set out to encourage bitcoin use, but before we see mainstream adoption, she said, there is one underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
Accessibility, she noted, is a real problem. "The average person does not know much about it. If they go online, they are mainly going to read all these negative articles. I want somewhere where people can go and get information."
To overcome this, Scarlet is planning on using some of her bitcoin funds to set up a coffee shop where she would also like to hold bitcoin meetups and house a commission-free bitcoin ATM.
Images via Yessi Bello Perez for CoinDesk.