How a Photographer Missed Out on $8 Million for This Portrait of a Crypto Billionaire

Vitalik Buterin
The portrait of Vitalik Buterin is technically worth $8 million today.

Being a freelance photographer is not easy. Chasing invoices, dealing with late payments, the list goes on, but very few have ever missed out on a payment of $8 million that was rightfully theirs.

But that’s what happened to photographer Andrew Miller after he took a portrait of Vitalik Buterin, who co-founded the cryptocurrency Ethereum and went on to become the world’s youngest crypto billionaire.

Long before Russian-Canadian programmer Buterin made the Forbes rich list, Miller, a self-confessed gamer geek, had taken a keen interest in the enigmatic programmer and approached him with a portrait idea around the same time Buterin was launching Ethereum. Buterin agreed, but back then he was cash-strapped so one of his investors came up with the idea of paying Miller in the upcoming Ethereum currency.

Miller paid for the shoot at his own expense — which included dinner, a photo assistant, and a makeup artist — and agreed to be paid in the initial coin offering so long as it was the equivalent of the $1,200 CAD ($886) that Miller deemed to be the value of his photo shoot.

This is Where it Gets Interesting

Miller tells PetaPixel that he was supposed to have been paid for the copyright of the photo during the initial coin offering when the price of Etherum was $0.31, meaning the photographer ought to have received somewhere between 3,225 and 3,600 Ether. Today, 3,600 Ether is worth nearly $8 million (10.8 million CAD).

Vitalik Buterin

“I said if they started using it commercially they could pay me in Ether at the initial coin offering amount. They agreed in principle and would investigate how to get the coins to me through their execution of the offering. It was still a new process for them and theoretical,” Miller says.

“I met them in Vancouver two weeks later at the 2014 Coinfest and hung around for lunch and other gatherings. I queried them on how payment would play out and Anthony [an investor] set me up with a Bitcoin wallet to demonstrate how one would send coins back and forth,” he continues.

“It was always my understanding that I would receive Ether at the initial coin offering. I just thought that in the end, they didn’t use the image commercially. Everything was not traditionally public and the Ethereum website was sparse for photos.”

Suffice it to say, Miller never received the cryptocurrency and after losing contact with Buterin, he was oblivious that his photo had been disseminated commercially. It was being used in news articles, memes, fan art, and even being sold as knock-off NFTs with zero credit given to Miller.

Despite numerous attempts to reach Buterin, Miller has not heard from the Ethereum co-founder and now says he is “trapped in a situation where there is no response from Vitalik or the Ethereum organization.”

“My portraits appear to have been instrumental in shaping the positive perception of Vitalik and contributed in some small part to Ethereum’s rise,” Miller writes in an article for DIY Photography.

“Today, I am battling to gain attribution and recognition after the portraits became famous, leaving my name unspoken. The history of what I did for Vitalik was untold, and anyone looking back can see its value given the timing and what transpired afterwards. Any joy I took in seeing my photos fulfilling the role I originally intended was quelled when I learned that they had been used commercially by the Ethereum co-founders, who never fulfilled their end of the negotiation.”

Miller stresses he has never issued an invoice, largely because if he does, Canadian law requires him to declare it as income immediately and pay income and sales tax on it regardless whether he’s received the payment or not.

PetaPixel has reached out to Vitalik Buterin and Ethereum for comment but did not hear back ahead of publication.

More of Miller’s work can be found on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photographs by Andrew Miller.