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

I Took A Picture Of The Back of My Dad's Head Every Day For Two Weeks

What started as a funny project turned into a lesson in storytelling...

For the past few months, I've been in northern Florida while my wife and I have been preparing my immigration packet into Canada. While it's been difficult being away from where I want to be in Toronto, I've gotten a chance to spend time with family and a unique glimpse in getting to know my father better. After a long time not really knowing him, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him on a daily basis in Gainesville, FL.  As anyone, we're complex people with our habits, neuroses and routines that help us get from one point to the other. For me, this was important to see in my father. We got to know each other as adults in my time of transition.

Every Monday, my dad and I go to the laundromat and one time while we were waiting for the dryer to finish, I saw a perfect photo and took a picture of the back of my dad's head, posted it to my Instagram and titled it "Dad meets laundromat." It was mostly just funny to me to take a picture of my dad inspecting the dryer to see how hot it was, but I really enjoyed it as a portrait of our time and experience. So I kept taking more pictures...

"Dad meets laundromat."

"Dad meets ducks."

"Dad meets the dawn of a new day."

Every day for the past two weeks. I've been taking pictures of the back of my dad's head in different scenarios. Unintentionally, this not only was a documentation of our time together, but told a story of my dad and his day to day life. I didn't mean to make this into anything, but the one guiding element that kept everything going was that it was fun — something I enjoyed creating and putting out into the world. This turned into a daily journal. After a few days, not only was my dad a willing participant, but started saying, "take a picture of my head here!"

"Dad meets overgrowth."

"Dad meets bus."

"Dad meets the vast landscape of the soul."

"Dad meets the vast landscape of the soul."

While we're looking for something meaningful to share, often the most interesting story is right in front of us. Waiting for the "right" story can lead to missed opportunities to share something genuine. Your daily experiences will resonate most with your audience.

While you may never meet my dad, or ever even see his face, this is still a story of our relationship and our experience together. Each day we had a moment where we stopped and took a portrait and shared something. When you're looking for ideas, look for moments and go from there. Keep it fun and don't try to force it. Stories are always there, it's just about not trying to tell them, but to let them happen.

Homework: Take one picture every day for a week and post it to your Instagram account with the hashtag #sparkflamestories. Share your story with us.

Embracing Emptiness

There's something always waiting to be created (AKA: what I learned when I went for a walk).

Emptiness is scary as hell. It's a seemingly endless void with nothing but room for doubt, criticism, overthinking, and one giant obstacle that we can't see. Emptiness can also be a sign of starting over — all of the grounding you've had with past projects was great until it catapulted you off a cliff which might be workable if you could even see the ground. It's terrifying.

There are going to be many many times in our lives where we feel this emptiness, this pit in our stomach reminding us that we're continuously in a countdown to our imminent deaths. At least that's how it feels to me. A little dramatic, yes, but real all the same. One thing that I have to face constantly is waiting too long to create something in fear that it's not perfect. Emptiness is the perfect canvas for everything that we don't attempt and I had time to think about this when I decided to go on a walk...It started with taking a picture...

"Two Pillars," photo by Stirling Myles

"Two Pillars," photo by Stirling Myles

I first saw these two blocks and I loved how they were predominant and stoic against a deserted background as if they were guarding a sacred space. The empty background started to have context. It just needed one element to fixate on. There was a start. I continued walking and took more pictures.

There's a lot beauty in unseen places and this applies to emptiness too. Space is still scary, but it's also a catalyst. And doing one thing can make all the difference in how you can view it. There's a fine balance of creating with intention and creating to create and it all comes down to being consistent. Creating something is one step closer to creating something you like. Use space and emptiness to your advantage, see it as an opportunity to take a risk. For me, it's this blog. I will be writing and posting every week. Creating something consistently takes time and practice, sometimes by kicking and screaming, but we get there. In the end, emptiness is always there, but it won't carry the same weight over us. It'll be nothing more than a canvas to paint with.

Thanks for reading. Comment with your thoughts below.