We are starting the year off strong with Toni Payne, a talented photographer who works with still life. Her work is simply mesmerizing. We were able to catch up with Toni to discuss her work and her experience in Web3.
Who is Toni Payne and what does the Orisha in your twitter bio refer to?
Toni Payne is a still life and documentary photographer, poet, and food content creator. I am also a podcaster, public speaker, and founder of the Champayner Social Club. I consider myself a creative person who is versatile in nature. Orisha in the Yoruba language means deity/god/goddess. It was a nickname I got for my work ethics and the ability to “make things happen”. I kept it because Orisha also creates and I create art.
I consider you to be a renaissance woman of sorts, is there anything you don’t do? Let’s start with the art. You are one of a few Black artists in the space who works in still life. Why?
Lol thank you for the compliment. Well, I believe photographers are natural explorers and are naturally curious people. I would photograph different subjects, food being one of them. I started using food to master lighting techniques and I would apply those techniques to other things. I enjoy still life because in some way its like writing a story on a blank piece of paper. Every item you choose has a why. Also, I find the mundane nature of still life interesting. You can look at a beautiful portrait of a man or woman and understand why its a beautiful portrait but why did this person choose to photograph a pen sitting on a stairwell. What is so special about flowers and oranges? Still life tells the stories of our time and things that were important to use during those times. Let’s say in 200 years, roses go extinct. Lol Documented still life images will tell you that in our time we still had them and this is what they looked like. The thing with my way of doing still life is that I might be a bit obsessed with showing the beauty in these things versus making them look ordinary. There are many reasons I love still life that could fit a book. Lol
Flowers. You’ve said that they are your love language. And the photos are so rich with texture and we are able to get closer to flowers than even in real life. Talk a bit about your process.
I always joke that the flowers and I have a love relationship before each shoot. Most times, I know what I want in my head so the first step is finding the right flower for what I am going for. Its so funny but although most flowers look good physically, not all photograph well. I am a fan of flowers with many petals, I also love roses and anything with layers. I go through what I call getting to know my flowers lol. I hand shape them into what I want before placing them on my mini set. I use a macro lens to capture closer details. Lighting is key to my work. My lighting technique allows me to show how richly textured and sometimes vibrant these flowers are.
But you also shoot architecture, food, drinks, wildlife and others! What is your grand vision for your work?
I do. I enjoy these very much, especially wildlife and food. It is hard to narrow things down for this reason but one common theme in all my work is finding the beauty in things. From wildlife to food to flowers, my goal is to showcase how amazing these things are. Maybe it is my way of wanting to have people look at the beauty we have in this world. I am also a story teller so I have shot and continue to shoot documentary pieces highlighting certain themes and even with that, I try to add a peaceful or beautiful perspective. Maybe someday Ill cover stories that are not as beautiful. I have done so in the past. I live in Los Angeles and we have a huge homelessness crisis. I did a series that I did not release because I felt I needed to justify the why. Like, If it wont impact these lives, why am I doing it? So to answer the question, the vision for my work is for people to stop and look at things they ordinarily would bypass in a whole new beautiful and hopefully educational light. To spark the curiosity in people to want to learn more about whatever it is.
Talk about the unique challenges for Black women in the NFT space from your vantage point?
Hahaha oh dear. Honestly I think the biggest challenge is getting support but at the same time I get it. People tend to support who they know and associate with and different races tend to congregate with each other. Also, being taken seriously is a huge challenge. I feel like as a black woman you have to work twenty times as hard to achieve what your non black peers would.
Let’s talk about content. You create quite a bit of content. IN the NFT space, a lot of left to the creators, they often have to be marketer, agent, gallery and everything else. How have you wrestled with this?
I do. It’s extremely time consuming. Especially because it doesn’t always convert to financial success. I am still learning to navigate it. Being a web3 entrepreneur who is also a content creator and educator, I know that I am wearing many hats without assurance that anything will come from it right away. I create art, I run a podcast, I market myself and my art. It is a lot. Its the type of responsibilities companies need teams for but I have to make it work. What keeps me going is that I believe in what we are trying to do and I feel like we need more voices to steer the ship in the direction we would want. To see the type of web3 or 4 or 5 we would like. This is the time to lay the foundation even if it’s for the future users and our voices are needed to be present while doing so. This is what keeps me going.
What do you say to artists who say they just want to create art and not do any of the other content-related activities?
I say get a team. If you cannot afford a team then you will need to find a way to do these things. I get it though. As an artist, you just want to create and not worry about these things. Maybe find someone who is great at the marketing part, team up with them and share some percentage. One thing though, you can’t create art without marketing it, if you wish for it to be seen.
You also have a podcast as well! What was the impetus for the podcast?
I started the podcast in 2021 to be a source of contact for those looking for information about NFTs. I remember when I started, I didn’t fully know what I was getting into until I immersed myself in the community and even with that, everyday feels like a learning experience. So my goal for the podcast is to be the inside to outside voice that keeps it real like, hey this is what we are doing here, this is how to do this, this is my experience and this is the reality of things. I call it honest conversations about NFTs Web3 and crypto because I feel my exposure prior to being immersed did not prepare me for what I saw.
With so many initiatives that you’re a part of and all of the content you’re creating, how do you manage your time? Are these special tools you use?
Time management for me has improved. I use calendars, notes, and bought a notebook that I write things in. Thank goodness for technology because it’s easier to set reminders and scheduling. This year, I am working more efficiently in how I spread my time. I now dedicate certain days to certain things and try to stick to that schedule.
There is an (incorrect) assumption that everyone in the NFT space is a 20-something white male. You are definitely not that. How are you disrupting the status quo in this space?
So, for the first year and a half of my podcast, I only did audio. I decided recently to do video because truly, the face of crypto should be diverse. Yes, it’s me, this black woman, not in her 20’s giving you a talk about NFTs and yes we will normalize seeing women like me be the face of NFTs and Web3. I think being seen is important. I used to use a pfp that wasn’t my picture but recently changed that. It’s a challenge putting your face to a controversial thing like NFTs or Crypto but what should be done should be done well. Everything in life can be considered a risk. The more they see diversity, the more they get used to the fact that we exist.
My favorite collection of yours is Language of Flora – can you talk a but about this collection and the intent behind it?
Thank you. I absolutely adore the language of flora. I say that this collection is a preview of my heart and soul, vibrant, energetic, youthful and colorful. It is a love story about the beauty of flora still life where you fall in love with each piece and connect to its reason. Every title has a purpose and a short poem attached to it. I like to imagine these flowers are an extension of a bigger picture. It’s my Alice in Wonderland minus the drama. lol
How, as a Black woman do you find community in Web3?
I think as a black woman, I’ve had to blend in with other communities that are non black. Maybe I just suck at the community keeping up with things but I seem to be a coaster. I have found friendship and allies from different races. One thing I do wish I had though is more time to truly nurture the friendships the way I want but adulting and life can be a barrier.
What’s next for you?
I am focused on growth. I feel like I am doing these things but that one thing that will propel me to another level will happen soon so I’m focused on being consistent. I want to grow in both the web3 and traditional art space. I also want to create art for commercial usage. Like hotels and restaurants. I am also spending a lot of time this year creating visual content. Content is king and a great reference point so this year for me is food, floral, poetry, education and motivational content.