MD: Your photographs, and a lot of western art in general, is often concerned with something ugly and violent. I’ve often struggled to understand why we are collectively drawn to those often disturbing things. How would you respond to that? Is this a process of curiosity or healing for you?
KP: That is a question I ask myself too… Why are we collectively drawn to these things? I don’t have an answer. The process of making this work is a few things for me. It is exciting and sometimes dangerous. It can be arduous and disappointing. It is absolutely tied to curiosity. And for the part of the work that is dealing specifically with music and the stories of these women who’ve been killed and sung about, it is redemptive.
MD: I want to ask a bit about your process for making work. Are you a walker or a driver? How do you schedule in trips to make photos and what do the days look like? What about editing, do you have routines, rituals or processes to get along with that?
KP: I drive a lot. Too much. It is particularly true right now, as the work is geographically more diverse than earlier projects. I’m traveling around the greater southeast, which includes Kentucky, The Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Tennessee, where I’m living. But once I reach a destination, I’m a walker. So I do both. It was during the making of Manifest that I got into the habit of listening to audiobooks while on long drives. I listened to practically every western-based Cormac McCarthy book during the making of those pictures and I think it absolutely changed the way I saw the landscape. When I pivoted to making work in the southeast, I started again with McCarthy, but picked up his southern novels. He’s my co-pilot. When out walking, I’m just looking for the potential for pictures everywhere. It’s a very particular kind of focus which I find I do best alone. I’ve never been someone who can work with an assistant, unless it’s an editorial gig or something like that. I’m a slow worker, I think. It takes me time to sit with work before I can be convinced it’s any good. I make a lot of small prints and push them around for a good, long while before committing to them. I enjoy the latency of film, and pretty much apply it to my digital workflow as well. It’s not unusual for me to shoot digitally and not look at the pictures for weeks. I just like to have space in between the act and the revelation.
MD: When you’re walking or driving, what are you thinking about? What’s your internal voice saying and how does that relate to where you direct the camera and how you make photographs?
KP: I believe in listening to the inner voice, and mine typically directs me where to go. I try to follow it as much as possible. Recently, I’ve had episodes where my instincts are telling me to leave an area because it isn’t safe. That really has to do with who else is around. Who is down by the river. Who may or may not be in the forest. It’s like when the hairs go up on the back of your neck and you’re not sure why but you decide to abide. But most of the time, I’m alone and just looking for opportunities to make pictures. I like to be as open as possible. That openness means that all kinds of thoughts cross my mind.