© Ralf Graebner
© Ralf Graebner

One dollar and a half is the total value of six coins now hanging in photo form in the three-story Lufthansa lounge at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. They were transformed into artworks by the German-American artist Ralf Graebner, 52. Graebner collects quarters which he finds on the streets of New York, his adopted home. Each has a story to tell; the one on the right, for instance, was painted red, with nail polish, Graebner suspects. “Bar owners used to feed marked coins into their jukeboxes so they could see how much they had earned at the end of the night,” he says.

At his studio, photo artist Graebner takes roughly 15,000 photos of each coin, scanning its surface – much like a computer tomography scan – in microscopically thin slices and merging all this image data to create one hyper-detailed image, 1.80 meters in diameter. “I am fascinated by the metamorphosis of these coins, from looking identical at the time they were minted to becoming unique and wildly differing objects with rich textures and unique colors,” says Graebner. The title of the photo series, Change, is a play on the two meanings of the word, “transformation” and “small change,” or coins. Pre-1965 quarters are rare today because they were made of silver back then, not copper and nickel, as they are today. Accordingly these old quarters are now worth considerably more than their face value of 25 cents, and very few are still in circulation. The reason Graebner does display a print in the lounge depicting a quarter from 1958 has something to do with Hollywood star Alec Baldwin: The avid art collector saw Graebner’s work and was captivated by the image of the 1984 quarter covered in red nail polish – coincidentally his wife’s birth year as well as her favorite color. Baldwin purchased a print and expressed his interest to also acquire a photograph of a Quarter minted in his birth year. Knowing that it would be virtually impossible to ever find a 1958 quarter on the street, Graebner searched online – and found a beautiful copy rich of patina and character.