Art of a Guest Pass: Cheryl Fox mints years of hip-hop history as NFTs
Cheryl Fox’s work features some of the biggest ICONS in Hip Hop, like that of Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Snoop, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Pharrell Williams, and more. Fox’s connections to the artists runs deeper than commissioned works as some of these individuals are friends who she has met through word of mouth.
Fox is an advocate of artists knowing their rights. The importance of cultivating a community is strong in her work but also, learning the business behind photography so that she can, and has, maintained a career without representation.
Cheryl Fox is a Photographer from New Jersey who currently lives and works in California. Fox has been in Cali for about 11 years and has no intentions of leaving anytime soon.
She got started in photography through her father but also took classes in college where she learned to develop film. Cheryl began her college education at the HBCU, Hampton University in Virginia, but later went on to hone her skills at the School of Visual arts in NYC.
Although the work lives in the realm of Fine Art, Fox has found a way to push beyond the boundaries and create her own space for making work. Through her personal relationships, she has had opportunities to work for businesses like HBO, Showtime Key Art, obtained Magazine covers, album packaging, and Ad campaigns.
In terms of authenticity and beauty, I would say Fox has done an amazing job of cultivating a path she can call her own. As a Black woman in this industry, she is a shining example of what faith and hard work can produce.
She has also published a coffee table book titled, “Art of a GUEST PASS,” which exists as a musical memoir of images never before seen of Fox’s personal lifestyle.
Fox will be dropping her first NFT collection in collaboration with Guilty by Association on Foundation. Which is a creative playground for artists, curators, and collectors who are seeking to experience the new creative economy.
See the NFT collection here.
NFTs have taken the art industry by storm, these non-fungible tokens which are certificates of ownership of a digital product have given power back to creatives.
Allowing them to reach audiences worldwide and share their work with people who may not have otherwise known of their presence in the industry.
Guilty By Association (GBA) helped Fox and does help other underrepresented artists by supplying them the tools to present their physical and digital works to new audiences.
This collaboration in many ways was the perfect platform for Fox to give space to the images that she holds dear to her heart. Such an important relationship to have as a creative to your work.
This NFT collection is made up of twelve minted images titled “SMOKE”. The drop is a part of her ongoing series of works that will lead up to Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary in 2023.
A drop you don’t want to miss. I had the pleasure of speaking with Fox about her photographic journey and what it’s like to be a non-represented creative making this type of work.
Who is Cheryl Fox?
Jade Rodgers: How did you get started in the photo industry?
Cheryl Fox: I got started in photography, really through my father, but also, I took a darkroom class and learned to develop film. I thought it was developing that I loved. Part of the class, obviously, is that you must take pictures in order to develop.
I loved seeing the images come to life in the lab and being in the darkroom. Then I started to give the photos away, and people would often say, “Oh my god your photography is so good.” I realized that maybe it’s photography that I love and not just the darkroom. I just started taking more pictures and gifting them.
When I went back to school, I attended the School of Visual Arts and learned lighting and how to work with a creative team. I thought to myself, oh my goodness, these photographs that I’m taking look like something out of a magazine. From there, I went on to build my own darkroom in my house. Even now I have my own in-home studio…
“I’ve gone through so many distinct phases.”– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
I went from film to digital, which was not a good ride, because I love film, but then the world changed like it always does. My life changed as well, and I went through a divorce. I was like, if I want to continue to shoot as often then I’m going to have to use this digital thing. You know, film photography is expensive.
JR: That has always been my dream to own my own studio, especially to develop film. The fact that you were able to realize that is so dope. I love that.
CF: Oh, good. Yes, you can do it.
JR: That’s the goal. I mean, I’ve already got my chemicals, I just need an actual physical space.
CF: Mine was a little corner of my basement that I had built out in my home at the time. I had a handyman come in and build a space that’s about the size of a walk-in closet. I’m not sure where you are, but spaces are tight everywhere.
JR: They certainly are, and I know it’s going to happen it’s just a matter of having the space right.
CF: You’ve already envisioned it and that’s the half of it really, is seeing it.
Refining her skills
JR: I was curious about your background in fine art. Also, your relationship to the categorizing of artists because I feel like your work can exist in several different spaces. What was that experience like going back to school?
CF: I went back to school specifically to learn about lighting and all that. Though originally while I was at Hampton University, and then to Kean University.
I have my BA in Sociology and I don’t have one in fine arts. On the other hand, my daughter, got her Bachelor of Fine Arts, in photography from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She was like, ‘oh, I’m going to major in photography.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a layup.’ Do you know what I mean? I never even thought about it when I was in school, that that was something that you could major in. It wasn’t until I went back to learn.
JR: I get that. Growing up I thought the same thing. I went to college initially for computer science. They don’t often push us towards the arts. The first advice I was given was that if I’m going to be an artist’s I’m going to struggle and that it was hard. I thought that back then, but I sort of feel like it was a lie. It was almost discouraging for me. Simply because I never saw my art as something I could make a living off.
Finding your lane as a photographer
CF: It’s certainly not a lie, because my entire existence as a photographer in ways, and without representation was hard. I don’t have representation and everything that I’ve shot was word of mouth.
JR: Even your work, The Art of a Guest Pass?
CF: None of that was commissioned. That’s just walking through life. So, for instance, Art of a Guest Pass, I named it that and put this collection together of my music photography.
I named it several things, it’s been the rock and roll of hip hop. I was trying to figure out how to present this body of work.
It was funny because a friend of a friend was at my house. I was working on the computer, and she was laying down on the couch. She said, you know, looking around my house, she was like, you should do a book.
I said, Yeah, I’m working on it. I want to do a kid’s book, and I want to do a book on sports, and I want to do all these things. She was like, you should do a music book. What are you doing with all these pictures? Other than having them on your wall?
I have a gallery right now in my house. I just need a bigger house or a bigger gallery because I’ve got even bigger prints. By the same token, I wasn’t even thinking about it, right here in my house is the court. Right?
So, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, a music book.’ Then the pictures are very personal to me. I came up in an industry years ago, where it was Puff, and Jay Z. Beyond that, it was a little bit of Pharrell. Everybody was just grinding and working, and we would vacation together, spend holidays, go to The Hamptons for the summer, and play ball.
We came up in a way creating culture.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
CF: While I was there years ago, I had done publicity. I stopped doing publicity and thought to myself what am I going to do? I don’t want to just sit here, so I started taking pictures while I was hanging out over the summer. At some of my friend’s birthday parties I would take pictures. Then all of a sudden these guys became big celebrities.
Meanwhile, I continue to take pictures, but it’s just me, my kids would go away. Ever since we got divorced and I moved to California the deal was that they would spend holidays with their father who was still in New Jersey.
So, every Christmas I would spend at the Staples Center watching the game pretty much by myself or whoever I could get to go with me because it’s Christmas Day, right? I have this picture of Kobe Bryant and LeBron from that Christmas day.
That’s I guess, 11 years old now, but it is an insane image for so many distinct reasons. Both their hands are down the balls extended in the air. Then Kobe and LeBron spoke to each other just before Kobe passed and I don’t know, it’s special for so many reasons. What do I do with that?
I’m photographing Puff, and we’re at clubs, birthday parties four in the morning. I got great pictures, but what do I do with that?
I can’t just give those to a magazine or somebody that doesn’t care about my culture, and my people.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
They could extort it and just like, do whatever, so I just held onto those images. Or gave them away as gifts, and I would just hold them.
Thinking outside of the machine
JR: That’s an interesting perspective to have about your images. When we think about accessibility and galleries, especially as Black creatives. Listening to the ways in which these moments are incredibly intimate for you with people you love and value.
How could institutions understand that when they only see it as a commodity. They’re thinking, oh that’s a famous person it would do numbers. You’re thinking outside of that machine and doing it within your means. I think that is just another reason that I love the work you do so much.
CF: Thank you, Jade. I mean, and for me, as an artist, I didn’t know.
Protect your work, even a picture on Instagram, because somebody is going to grab it, run with it, put their tag on it.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
They’re never going to know that it was even my image. Who wants that? No, thank you. Though I would go into galleries because I love images, no matter what. Even before I started to make my own and blow them up. I would always go to West Fourth Street, buy jazz images and frame them and I always had images in my home.
Even when I was younger, so I knew there had to be a way somewhere in there. When I would go to the galleries, it was a lot of rock and roll photographs, of the white rock and roll guys.
Rock and roll at that point wasn’t America’s music anymore. It was Hip Hop. Thinking about The Doors and the Beatles and Rolling Stone. I had the hip hop version of these iconic beings. This one gallery, in particular, the Morrison hotel gallery is big on images like that.
I’d always wanted to show work in that gallery. It used to be on Prince Street, and it was literally as big as a walk-in closet. I thought to myself I should have one picture on the wall in here. I wanted my work to be seen because outside my friends are asking for my work but who else is seeing it?
Finally, I had another gallery, Mouche that represented my work for many years here in Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, unless I did an exhibit, I didn’t get my name on the wall or my image up.
They’d have two walls of Terry O’Neill’s work, or a wall with Kirkland’s work and I’m thinking you know, can I get a corner? Can I get an image on the wall? My daughter came to me and said, Mom, you have to get another gallery.
Morrison hotel gallery onboarded me at the beginning of 2020. Literally right before everything shut down. I was so happy, and they’ve been selling prints and with them, it’s 50/50. I make the print and bring it over to them and boom, I never know who my patron is and can never say thank you.
All I can do is sign it and turn it over. That’s why I love the blockchain because the NFT world is like Fine Art Meets cryptocurrency and it’s on a worldwide gallery.
Documented, it’s immortalized forever.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
That image is now forever credited to me as the creator no matter where it goes, and the world can see it now and it’s protected. I’m like this is fucking insanity. Excuse My French but this is I couldn’t have dreamed anything this amazing.
JR: That’s incredible, and you know I’m just gaining an understanding of what the Blockchain can be utilized for. I recently sold my first NFT and I felt empowered by that. I’ve personally tried to sell prints in the past. I’m currently a part of a print sale with Diversify photo, that’s as you mentioned a 50/50 split with the artists.
Though that feeling of not knowing who bought the work, and not being able to thank them is a weird thing for me. I don’t know the types of audiences I’m reaching. It’s sort of a disconnect for me, and I believe our medium is about community and it is about making deeper connections.
CF: That’s why it is a struggle, and for me, before last week it’s been a gamble. I mean you get a big check, and it takes you a while to get there. It’s not something that is consistently moving every day. Though you’re still young, you don’t have two kids and a divorce. Though it really might not be a struggle for you because you’re already selling.
JR: It might not, though in terms of financials, I’ll be honest, I am at times. I’ve always been the type of person that just went with the flow. I realized I have a weird relationship with photography these days. Don’t get me wrong, I still love photography, but I think it has a lot to do with the type of work I make.
CF: I didn’t realize you were a photographer.
JR: (Laugh) Yeah, I move between a few mediums, but photography and writing mainly. Kulture Hub gave me that opportunity to really explore writing more deeply.
CF: Oh, you’re like me Jade, my favorite forms of expression are with my eyes and my hands. I like to write too. I write different stories and things.
JR: Same, I write stories as well, but I don’t show them to anybody.
CF: Exactly. You know, I mean, you got to hold it close to the chest. We’re still exercising our talent; you know what I mean? Just because nobody else sees it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
JR: Exactly. Now, I saw that you had a clothing brand, Wear Entitled, can you talk about how that came about?
CF: Wear Entitled came about because I wanted to, like I mentioned before, I wanted my work to be seen by people. I wasn’t sure how to do that in the past, with galleries.
My daughter was in school and was also working for brands like Kith and Virgil Abloh at Off White. Her take on street fashion was important to me. She said, Mom, there are people making tons of money off their images with clothes and their images are nowhere near as hot as yours. You’ve got to get involved.
I tried to figure out a way, and didn’t want to do t-shirts, sweatshirts, but thought a jacket would be a nice start. Making some sample jackets I wasn’t sure about sizing. I just knew I wanted the images on the backs of the jackets.
At the time I wanted them to be in Barney’s, Max Fields, or what I thought was the right store. I never made that happen, but I turned around and went to an online method. There was a demand in that, and the world was changing around me by the time, I figured it out.
I realized I had to hold off on that, I wanted to actualize it and so I started doing a few custom pieces. It was around Puffs’ birthday, and it was difficult because it’s hard sometimes to get celebrities, or men with money, women who have everything, something.
I thought to myself I’ll make a robe, and so I made a couple. As special custom gifts, and I did one for Puff and one for LL Cool J and I wanted to keep it going.
I’m not a fashion person, if it’s an image great. I know what to do. It’s a matter of what image and what to do with it in fashion. If I could have anyone creative directly on that work, it would be Pharrell Williams. I know that he would be helpful in making that happen for real.
JR: Even if you don’t feel like a fashion person, I can tell you know what you might want at least. You have the images and can play with them and experiment. I could see your work on a Puffer coat and the image or even part of your image is the overall print. I feel like that would be dope to see your work in that way.
CF: I’ll think about it and I’m not sure which company. Maybe Alpha Industries? Those green puffer jackets. I’m not a fashion girl. That’s why I would need somebody that understands, the style of clothes, the materials, etc.
Thank you though. I’d love to do jackets too, but I need help. Maybe I could bring in someone from that industry. Someone who at the end of the day they really have their understanding in that area and knows what they’re doing.
Cheryl Fox drops her genesis NFT collection “SMOKE” on Foundation
JR: Absolutely, someone who is experienced. Also, about your NFT collection drop. How did you get together with Guilty by Association? What was the planning behind that?
CF: God brought us together. I’m so happy about that because I’ve been looking for someone to help me in the NFT space ever since I heard about them. I want to say back in February.
I did a lot of research and for every person, I met, pretty much I’ll ask, “have you heard about NFTs?” It’s a mixed bag where some have, and some haven’t. One of my very long-time friends, whose kids are best friends with my kid, and I went to college with them. That’s just how close we are, and so we were discussing NFTs, and she said to me that sounds like what Derek is doing.
Derek is one of the partners of GBA and he’s also her cousin. I’ve known him for years, but Derek is like that cousin that’s around, but you only see him every five years or so.
I try to connect with him, but we don’t, and I come back to LA and couple of weeks later. My friend connects us and everything in that first call that he said, is what happened within the week. It became a reality and a month later, I’m going to market and we’re going to drop it.
A leap of faith…
Since February I had been talking to people who would tell me they’re taking me to market, or I’m representing all your NFTs. I said, slow down, let’s just get one moving and there were so many people.
This woman was cursing out another woman I had never even met with. I thought you know slavery is over, right boo, you don’t own me. Also, no deals have been made.
Though after speaking to Derek, everything he said happened at once. I felt so blessed and that’s why I say it’s God. Derek was talking to his cousin at the same time looking for an artist. I was looking for help and she was able to connect us. I passionately believe that what you’re seeking is seeking you.
Even before when I went to New York, I met Claude and VSN. I met with Sotheby’s on that trip. I sat with a lot of people about NFTs. When I came back before I met Derek, I made a whole pdf of what I thought I needed to make the book a token. I was going to sell that as an NFT.
I finally had a community and understanding of all the elements needed to launch an NFT collection.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
It’s not just the art, you have to have community, and the marketplace on your side. Once I put that together I realized Derek was everything that I put in that PDF. He suggested Foundation and said we’re going to sell all these images at one time.
JR: What was the choice behind Foundations and not other platforms like Rarible or OpenSea?
CF: He mentioned OpenSea, but I think it was because his partner Karen is from the New Museum and she’s an authentic Art Girl. So is Derek and they come from an authentic background.
I feel as though because my work is already sold in Fine Art Galleries. Going with an art focused platform sounded like the most sense. The people that buy fine art are going to want to buy my work. OpenSea and Rarible are more for everyone; I feel like I would be lost in the open sea.
JR: Interesting I didn’t know that about the Foundation platform, it’s important to think about the nitty gritty.
CF: Yeah, and I was concerned about people being able to find my work, especially those who like to collect art or photographs. At the time memes and profile pictures were the main thing, and I asked myself are they even doing photography?
I also thought that everything had to be animated. It’s like you have these digital assets but now you have to animate them, or so I thought. When I met with Sotheby’s they told me no you don’t have to do anything to it.
Your RAW file is an asset, and so if I scanned a negative or created a digital file, that’s my asset and it doesn’t have to be touched.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
JR: I was looking at the images you have available for the collection, and I noticed that you did end up animating some of them. What was the choice behind animating some over others? More specifically thinking about the Jay Z image with the fire.
CF: Honestly, I like the animation. May because I’ve sat with these images and had them for song long that I’ve seen them. I thought it would be fun to animate more. My agent Karen (GBA), I essentially followed her lead as the creative in that space.
We played with a couple and ended up animating three. The one of Jay Z, Snoop, and Almighty Jay. I had one contact of Jay Z with the fire behind him, but his eyes were closed. So, I had to find another image and I knew I had one. I dug deep into the chest and pulled that one out. Animating the flames helped me bring that image back to life.
JR: The fact that you can also use the NFT space to revisit old work and reinvent it. It’s nice to see your work in new ways and it evolves over time that’s a great feeling as an artist.
CF: That was the beauty of it, that I found in the darkroom at first. How an image just all of a sudden appears, it was amazing to see the images come to life. This is a whole other version of that life. I could make the smoke in one image move and the rainfall in another, it’s fun.
The NFT space makes it light, and you have the freedom to really create.-Cheryl Fox, Photographer
JR: Absolutely, I can see that in the choice of images. They are fun and exciting photographs. Could you speak more about the image titled Three Musketeers?
CF: If there’s anyone that you’d want to smoke with, it’s them three. That’s all smoker’s dream, right? I was shadowing Snoop for a project he was doing.
He had all the boys, and Wiz Khalifa and Seth Rogen were in the trailer just hanging out. I was there and another photographer because I feel like I’ve seen a lot of the photographs from that day run. I kept mine and never really ran them because again I wanted to hold them close.
While photographing them I was trying to get in front because of the way they were standing. I got on top of this countertop and I’m only 115 lb. 5’2. I crunched up into the corner to get that side angle.
All three of them are beautiful, wonderful spirits. I’m not sure if it’s because they smoked so much weed, but it was a good day in the neighborhood over there.
Then my son was like, ‘Mom, that picture has to be an NFT.’ Then Derek agreed, but it was really a great moment. When I went to a movie premiere, I’d seen Seth and was like, I have a sick picture of you and the boys. He was like yes; I think I’ve seen it before. I told him no you probably saw the other versions.
JR: This is going to be an amazing drop; the collection is amazing, and I can already see it.
CF: Thank you, I’m praying that it is. Sometimes I can’t even sleep then I’m like I have to get some rest. Wait how was your drop? Where did you mint it?
JR: I used the platform Voice. I’d previously done an interview with a portrait photographer named Sasha Stavila and he told me about Voice. I figured I would check it out and I looked into the platform and some of the other ones.
So, I took an image from my project CRWN, which is about Black hair care practices as a sight of Black joy and rest. I made that work during 2020 it’s an incredibly important project for me and reflects my experience during that year.
All the loss of life, I really felt like I needed to find a space within our culture and our community to just breathe. I put an image I made using scan photography up on the 9th and it was sold on the 10th. It was an incredible feeling and I’m thankful to the person who bought it.
CF: That is incredible, and it was a one of one?
JR: Yes, it was.
CF: I love that. So, you said Voice? Does that platform let you bid on things or how does it work?
JR: You have a choice to set a fixed price or bid. You also get 20% back from resells. I sold mine for $500. They’re still in beta but I really like that platform personally.
CF: Well, that’s good I used to only get 10%.
JR: I know Rarible gives you the choice to set the percent, I think the range is 0-50% which is a nice option.
CF: I didn’t know that. I thought it was always 10%. I didn’t even know you could.
JR: I just found out not too long ago about that myself. Yesterday I was helping a friend mint his first collection and we noticed the choice. I thought that was dope for sure.
CF: I suppose it varies per platform. I’m curious about the 50/50 split once it hits the market and resells like the marketplace doesn’t get paid again? I wonder about that, but the creator gets a part.
That space was interesting in the way they were talking about NFTs and just helping spread information to Black creators. Some spoke about their struggles outside the NFT space, and others talked about how much it benefited.
Also, just the importance of building community and marketing before you release a drop. All sorts of dope information are being spread amongst creatives. This community was also really willing to support other artists in helping share their work, etc. I was beautiful I was sort of just listening and feeling extremely optimistic about the future of the art industry really.
CF: Optimism is what the world needs right now. I’m going to have to go find Black AF on the Blockchain because I’m always looking for all the folks and photographers in this space.
Cheryl Fox speaks on protecting your digital assets
JR: Yes, I think Twitter and Discord are the hubs for these sorts of spaces in terms of marketing and community building.
CF: Twitter is everything. I’m barely on Instagram anymore. I’m much more interested in what’s happening on Twitter than on Instagram. I’ve had a Twitter since 2009 and I made my first post only a month ago. I never knew how to use Twitter and then the industry uses it, so I have to learn. I used to push posts over there, but it doesn’t really translate.
JR: Yeah, I’ve been on Twitter since 2011 and it’s kind of weird because Instagram, we’re photographers and it’s supposed to be a photo-based app. It doesn’t really do so well in that regard.
CF: I enjoyed it for a while and then it turned into a business-driven app. Then my kids were like stop posting pictures of us nobody wants to see your kids. I told them everybody wants to see my kids. She’s like you need to be posting your artwork.
Honestly, I felt that I couldn’t because they’ll steal it. Then half of the portraits I make I have to wait for them to use it because if it’s all over my Instagram then they can’t use it the way they want to. I figured it out I can update the portraiture a year after I take the picture. I’m like, if you didn’t use it by now, guys. It’s gone. I could put it on my website.
JR: In this era, it does feel like we have to keep a presence on social media. Sometimes folks just post to post things. If you’re posting your work and someone says oh this is dope work, they take a screenshot it’s theirs now.
CF: It upsets me because I have a large extended family and some of them are well known. If I post a picture of the kids then suddenly, I see another website using it with someone else’s tag on it. It upsets me. My daughter was telling me to just say thank you for supporting my work.
Then every time someone did it, I’d have to comment on that. Though I’m conflicted because it’s like take your tag of it. One time someone I gave an image to someone, and they gave it to another person to make a jacket with. Knowing good and well that I have a wearable art collection that they could have asked me to make for them.
When I sent a cease-and-desist letter to the person making the jacket, the person I knew was like, how dare you reach out to them without reaching out to me to ask me.
Really? How about how dare you send my picture to them and have them make a jacket with it? Knowing good and well that, that was my photograph. Now you want me to reach out to you about it. Get out of here. So that’s why I keep my images close to the chest.
JR: That’s a crazy feeling. I also experienced a run in with a photographer who tried to steal literally my RAW files. We weren’t even hired to photograph the event we were at. It was just photographing Carnival in Baltimore for fun.
I had my camera, and he had his, but my battery died, and I didn’t have an extra. He told me it was fine for me to use his extra and so I put my SD card in his camera and kept photographing.
Then at the end of the night, he tried to say all the images I took with his camera belonged to him. I was like no way, and I’m not usually the type to call anyone’s art bad but his photos were sort of bad.
When he was busy, I went and downloaded all my photographs onto my hard drive removed them, and then gave him his camera equipment back. At the moment I was so angry.
CF: That’s ridiculous.
Now that we know our files are worth so much it’s even more important to protect them.– Cheryl Fox, Photographer
JR: I completely agree with that, we have to protect our work. Though I would love to hear any words of wisdom for up and coming photographers in the field.
CF: Other than to keep shooting and keep shooting. The main advice I’d give is to learn the business of photography at the earliest stage possible. Know your rights and when you get that contract to know what you’re signing off on.
Understand usage and where you make the most of your money and know that a buyout, you still retain your own copyrights. You always want to be able to hold your copyrights for your own personal benefit. Then no matter what you can always sell your art because you own it. The biggest thing I’d say is to learn the business while you continue to shoot.
JR: What’s crazy is in my 3 years at Pratt, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about the business side of photography.
CF: Many people don’t know and when you get out and don’t have an agent or a rep you’re literally screwed halfway. The business aspect is everything that you need to know. People will try to take advantage of you.
JR: I really appreciate that, and I know a lot of others will too.
CF: Absolutely, you’re welcome I appreciate you Jade and I hope you enjoy your holidays.
JR: Same to you Cheryl thank you for your time.