Paul Kwiatkowski has been working on a photo essay/novel called And Every Day Was Overcast. It is about growing up in the 90s amongst the swamps and strip malls of South Florida.
Otherwise he works in fashion and recently returned from documenting a rarely seen Vodou pilgrimage in Haiti.
We interviewed Paul to talk about these two projects.
About the project Vodou pilgrimage in Haiti.
Seeking Magazine: What was your main reason for doing a project about the Voodoo rituals in Haiti?
Paul Kwiatkowski: There’s something really exciting about the uncertainty of being in a place like Haiti. I thought that documenting a religious ceremony based on Vodou would be a way to experience a grey area of the country not rooted in disease, disaster, or politics.
SM: What did you wanted to photograph?
PK: My only agenda was to drink a beer on the streets of Cite Soliel and ultimately to make my way towards the Northern part of the island for the pilgrimage. Once I made it to each of those locations I let opportunities present themselves.
SM: How did you managed to take photos in those places?
PK: When I showed up, I tried not acting like an asshole. It’s a huge honor and privilege to, as a stranger, be permitted inside someone’s home/temple. The experience of being allowed to photograph something sacred was an intimate experience.
SM: The situation in Haiti looks really dramatic for the majority of the population, do you feel attracted to photograph situations of places in an state of crisis?
PK: At the time I was in my own emotional state of crisis. I wanted to feel dislocated. Haiti seemed like the perfect place to escape myself. That said, I didn’t necessarily want to just flock to a devastated country to feel distracted. I was inspired to visit by the human resilience of a country still raw in the process of rebuilding and evolving.
SM: Seeing your photographs it seems that the rituals around Voodoo congregate a lot of people. To which degree Voodoo is part of the Haitians lives?
PK: Most photos from the cave and surrounding area were taken from the pilgrimage while the rest are from inside makeshift temples in various towns. Vodou is an integral part of Haiti’s cultural identity although it is not recognized by every one. Since the earthquake and Cholera epidemic a lot of Haitians have moved away from Vodou, claiming that the practice has brought the country bad luck. Vodou is steadily being pushed to the fringes.
SM: Which is the difference between your photographs and other projects about Voodoo?
PK: For me taking photos is not so much about the image but changing the narrative associated with the concept. The reality of life in Haiti is intensely unique and complicated. All around there’s an unavoidable sense of beauty and devastation.
SM: Do you think this kind of documentary essays have some degree of rejection when compared against other more accepted themes?
PK: Yeah for sure, but I don’t believe in the unspoken promise of absolute journalistic truth. Ultimately, I’m telling my own. Saying anything else does the viewer a disservice. A photographer is not a substitute for a teacher or an anthropologist. Some of my favorite images and stories don’t culminate into resolve but put a candle under my ass. That’s what I’m really interested in; anything that forces me to search for meaning.
About the project And every day was overcast.
SM: How did this project originated? And your main idea was?
PK: I wanted to assemble objects, photos, recollections, fantasies and stories from my childhood into an artifact based on coming of age in South Florida.
SM: What do you think about what the projects narrates? What do you expect to evoke with it?
PK: I’ll never fully be able to express how I felt during the formative moments of my teenage years but I can articulate how I felt the last time I thought of a specific event or how the narrative behind an image resonated with me in hindsight. The message is about passing through adolescence and coming out altered.
SM: In this project there are any references to animals and violence, what is the reason behind that?
PK: Suburban sprawl is a big part of South Florida’s topography. I remember being fascinated by wild nature invading the suburbs. Growing up I loved hearing stories about alligators crawling into my neighbor’s swimming pool, of rattlesnakes in the garage, piranhas being released into the canals. I wanted South Florida to function as a character that doesn’t necessarily illustrate the text but gleams off it.
SM: Some of the images are really intimate. Moments of relaxation or young people in the middle of a party, how did you ended up photographing that? Why did you included those in the project?
PK: In my early teens I often used my camera as a buffer to ease into social situations.
I don’t think it was possible for me to process a lot of what happened during those years. At the time, a lot of events didn’t make sense and still don’t. For closure I wanted to reassemble childhood memories from perspective of someone participating in life from the periphery.
SM: What makes you choose a photograph instead of any other?
PK: I like how singular, quick, yet removed the medium is. I like finding the narrative between isolated images.
SM: Have you finished the project? How did you edited it?
PK: Yes, I just completed the text! At the moment I am working on the book’s design.
SM: What is your current project?
PK: Appalachian road trip and the search for Shangri-La.
© Photographs by Paul Kwiatkowski.