The Accidental Internet Sensation

This mountain engagement photo was one of the biggest stories on the Internet for a week a while back. Meet the person who took the photo.

Meet Paul Wolfe. Friend. Portland, OR visual artist. Illuminati enthusiast. Self proclaimed "Introverted explorer" and photographer. He also goes by other names: Desert Man, #millenial and Wild Cat — all alter-ego personas that he writes about on his travels. I've known him for a while and I've always thought of him as one of the most creative people on the planet. His visual art is striking and always has a social element, or rather an experiment. He once created a project called "A Stranger Constellation" where he approached people and read their tarot cards, took photos and wrote an online journal about it. His work travels and dives into an emotional core that's as chaotic as the human condition. He lives in that space and comes out with amazing experiences to share, all with a sense of humor.

On Thanksgiving Day of 2014, Paul stumbled upon a beautiful scene at Munra Point in Oregon and took an amazing picture. It was a mysterious couple in mid proposal. That night, he posted the picture on Reddit in search for the couple so he could give it to them. For a week it was a scene etched on the Internet and went viral literally overnight and soon took a life of its own.  

I asked Paul to break the experience down...

"[This] was the first time I ever posted to Reddit and within an hour it was #1 on the front page, which is kind of a big deal in that community. This led to a sudden and intense interest in me that I was unprepared for.  As soon as I realized what was happening, I switched all my social media accounts to private.  One person messaged me warning that they were able to figure out my address by deep diving my Instagram.  That's spooky af!  When the media picked it up, their narrative was "internet used for good deed".  Ironically, they started calling my personal phone at all hours, calling my work, hassling my friends on twitter.  If there's content to be had, the media's relentless.  In retrospect, I'm grateful for the experience, but it was an aberration.  I can't even access that reddit account because I forgot the password!"

Photo taken by Paul Wolfe

Photo taken by Paul Wolfe

The story was featured in local newspapers, like the Oregonian to large outlets, like ABC News, The Guardian, Inside Edition and NPR...

"The goal was to connect a strangers to a photo based on limited information.  I was confident that the internet could solve that puzzle, but didn't expect people to actually see it.  I made the reddit account for the sole purpose of posting this photo and didn't expect anyone to take seriously an account with zero clout.  I figured I'd get 2 or 3 likes.  Next thing I know, my photo's taking the Netherlands by storm for some reason. My takeaway is that anything on the internet is fair game, so be careful what you post.  The internet is only anonymous until it isn't."

Paul's story isn't just the photo, it's merely a part of it that fits into his art as a social experiment in general. I asked Paul a few questions about his relationship to social media and how he expresses his art.

How do you approach social media as a tool in your art?

"When I create alter-egos or characters using social media platforms, I think of them as roadside attractions.  People can stop in, see the oddity, talk to the guy behind the counter, then get back on the road.  It's all for the sake of novelty.  Myspace was the first great medium for this, now it's Twitter and Youtube.  Some content creators have made very successful brands out of their fictions and more power to them.  I'm more interested in ambiguity; I want to create profiles that are obviously fake, but become more real and intimate as people engage with them.  I'm pretty much a bot lol."      

What's the one thing you want your audience to walk away with your art?

"I want to interrupt clicking as usual and remind people that the world is unpredictable and weird and way more fun when we're not taking ourselves so seriously."    

"What Waits" by Paul Wolfe

"What Waits" by Paul Wolfe

"Sekhmet" by Paul Wolfe

"Sekhmet" by Paul Wolfe

Your art is very social, how does that play a role in the realm of your political thought?

"I'm very much an introvert, but I find people fascinating and complex.  It's important to remember that people are not their politics; ideology, like identity, is fluid.  People will go deep with you if you can bypass their programming."     

What art is doing it for you right now?

"Have you heard that Shia LaBeouf and the alt-right are at war?  Apparently, LaBeouf's been creating all this anti-trump art, including an anti-trump flag that he flew in an undisclosed location, live-streaming it for an online audience.  By observing this live-stream, trolls were able to determine the location of the flag by calculating flight paths and the positions of the stars, then recruited a local neckbeard to drive around the area honking his car horn until they picked up the sound on the video. Shia LeBouf's flag is now hanging in some alt-right nerd's basement. If you want to understand America in 2017, this is everything."    

Where are you going?

"I got my bug out bag packed and a camper on my truck, so eventually I'll just pack it all in and hit the road.  Maybe down the line I'll finally open that UFO-themed roadside attraction I've always dreamed of… Space Patrick's Cosmic Emporium. If you know any wealthy eccentric who want to fund the endeavor, send them my way!"   

Till the next experience.

"Fecund Makeout Shack" by Paul Wolfe

"Fecund Makeout Shack" by Paul Wolfe

"Haro Strait" by Paul Wolfe

"Haro Strait" by Paul Wolfe