Paul Kwiatkowski’s new online photography series Eat, Prey, Drug takes the viewer on a disorienting journey through the heart of California's volcanic Mt. Shasta yet it may be just as accurately described as a mythic road-trip from the heavenly clouds of Mount Olympus to the dark, Hadean rivers of the underworld via America. Along the way he derails the storied American road trip genre from it’s well trodden course of the diaristic photo-journal to multimedia internet experience encompassing photography, video and fiction.
Paul recently talked to Hotshoe about the inspirations behind the project and his desire to expand the traditional photo book narrative into an immersive internet experience.
Alan Knox: What first inspired you to follow photography?
Paul Kwiatkowski: I used to work in photojournalism as a multimedia producer prior to the recession, at the height of America’s invasion of Iraq. I remember that, for the first time, agents were selling camera phone images of the London bus bombing and screen shots of Saddam Hussein's hanging. At the time, the only photographs making money were from the celebrity circle jerk surrounding Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith. That moment in Western history when photography exposed itself to annihilation was when I took interest.
AK: What lead you on the journey to Mt. Shasta?
PK: Earlier this year I was living in Los Angeles and there were two minor earthquakes. Aside from tremors, nothing physically happened to me but a few days later I became intensely ill. I had never heard of Quake Fever, but apparently it happens when bacteria comes up from the ground after an earthquake. The sickness inspired me to further investigate the connections between perceptions of consciousness and the literarily/figuratively shifting American landscape. Parts of the mythology surrounding Mount Shasta embody that connection.
AK: Do you actively seek to mix photography, video, performance and writing in your work, or did the narrative you progressed naturally lead to an intermedial approach?
PK: All those mediums naturally bleed into one another. I like to start with an image or a mood then expand on it. Photography generally takes precedence.
AK: How did you approach Eat, Prey, Drug differently from your previous work? Did the mythical lore of Mount Shasta offer opportunities to question the nature and veracity of the photographic medium?
PK: This is the first time I’m evolving a project online. I’m working in tandem with my publisher Black Balloon on creating a more immersive digital experience. I don’t believe in anything supernatural because there is nothing outside of nature; there are just the hidden narratives we can’t perceive. Mount Shasta inspired me to explore ideas that are outside of our awareness. I love that photography is like a trap door to a subjective reality. The veracity of photos should always be questioned.
AK: It strikes me that the mythical Mt. Shasta can be seen as a symbol for America itself: a shining beacon yet with hidden, unexpected depths. The narrative in Eat, Pray, Drug progresses as if to form a dark, almost Hadean road-trip. Were you inspired by much of the American vernacular photography in this genre?
PK: You nailed it! America is emerging from its Dark Age into the 21st century. Right now it is a semi-functional Post Empire society. We’re beginning to see ourselves in the same way the rest of the world does.
I find the American Road Trip genre to be trite and overly romantic, but sometimes I enjoy it. I’ve never seen it done in a way that mirrors how I envision the experience. I think it’s going to be a fun challenge that will take more than the photographic medium to expose.
AK: Do you view Eat, Prey, Drug as an ongoing project? Can it be easily transferred to the photo book format or does your intermedial approach naturally lend itself to an online outlet?
PK: It is an eight-part series, all with Black Balloon Publishing. The second part, Wetiko, just came out. I’d like to think of Eat Prey Drug as something that could later be remixed into a psychical object. I envision the series as a literary mixtape (the way hip hop artists use mixtapes, not as a compilation of personal music). Each part of the series stands alone as an online project but can be repurposed into a physical object or e-book.
AK: What projects are you working on currently and looking forward to in the future?
PK: Right now EPD is the only project I’m actively working on. I’m excited to see how it manifests itself!
— Alan Knox