An Interview with Photographer Eric Kvatek
Road-Tripping Route 66 with the Cult Japanese Brand Kapital
Known for experimentation and creativity, Japanese clothing brand Kapital pushes the limits with both the clothing it produces and the way it presents them. The brand’s garments draw influence from across the world and showcase a range of idiosyncratic details like sashiko-inspired stitching, mismatched buttons and intricate patchwork repairs. Needless to say, the clothing has a lot of personality. To showcase each season’s pieces, Kapital shoots a lookbook featuring unconventional models in far-flung locales; past locations have included Mongolia, Lappland and Thailand. The results, both spontaneous and beautiful, stem from a decade-long relationship between Kapital and Brooklyn-based photographer Eric Kvatek.
For Kapital’s upcoming Fall/Winter 2017 collection, Kvatek shot photographs along one of America’s most quintessential strips of pavement: Route 66. The images showcase models riding longhorns, hanging out at truck stops and relaxing on the beach. As with any road trip, there are diversions into small towns like Bandera, Texas, as well as tourist centers like Las Vegas. The American Southwest, with its rugged vistas and quirky cities, is the perfect foil for Kapital’s latest collection, which blends hippie, cowboy and ‘80s rock-climber aesthetics. As the clothing hits stores in Japan, Kvatek shares some of his favorite photos from the 2,300-mile drive with us and reflects on how this unique trip came together.
The other unique thing was scouting and casting. I had to drive the expected route in reverse, from Los Angeles to Bandera, and figure out the local people and locations along the way. So when everybody arrived, we just started shooting and headed back west. All in all, I personally drove 6,000 miles and shot 12,000 photos.
The obvious guy to bring along was my nearly lifelong buddy Kyle, who has been in numerous Kapital shoots since the beginning, twelve years ago. For a new guy face, I called upon my friend Ken, better known as Rugged Boss on Instagram. He has a kind of cool Geronimo-Pancho Villa look. Despite his ruggedness, he’s very calm and extremely humble — two qualities I really value. I managed to find cool local guys in several locations along the way. So there’s some new faces and, I think, some new friends also.
In Las Vegas, I found this Elvis tribute performer to join our shoot. I didn’t tell anybody, including Kiro, so there we were shooting, and an Elvis in full ’70s sequined jumpsuit strolls up and just starts modeling with us. Of course, everyone is freaking out. But Shane was in character and just spent the day with us, being Elvis, who was my hero as a kid. I remember I was at football practice when Elvis died, and after practice, my mother told me. So when I said goodbye to Shane, the Elvis performer, we shook hands, but then I said, “I’m sorry, I have to hug you.” In that moment, it felt like I was saying goodbye to the real Elvis, and I was nine years old.
The final destination and shooting location was Venice Beach. So there we were, essentially working, and I think all of us had this sense of accomplishment, but at the same, time a sadness that it was over because we all just spent this time and distance bonding, and all that’s left is the departures. Part of the magic of a successful photo shoot, for me, is this kind of camaraderie. It doesn’t feel like a job to me. There’s a sudden and temporary intimacy that transcends the fact that it’s work. It was a hazy evening and we all just became quiet as the sun set. I think we were all thinking the same thing. All of us happy, but then dreading the end.
What I did experience was a general sense of ennui and a tragic feeling of change. I particularly noticed this in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as I’ve spent the most time there. I moved to Albuquerque in 1988 and I found there almost a fantasyland that time forgot. Cowboys drove around in old pickup trucks wearing sidearms. Vietnam vet drifters lingered on street corners, strapped with Bowie knives. One of my girlfriends and I trotted around downtown Albuquerque on horseback, mixed in with automobile traffic, and occasionally we were chased by packs of wild dogs. There were very few chain stores or fast food restaurants at the time. So, seeing the 2017 version — so many of the old local businesses gone, the avenue widened, the cast of characters absent — was disheartening. Beforehand, I had imagined that Route 66 through Albuquerque would be like some kind of crescendo of the shoot. In reality, whatever rakish charm I remembered it having was gone. As it turned out, Albuquerque was a city we briefly passed through and forgot about, eager to reach Gallup instead.
And then there’s Las Vegas. After the horrible event, I messaged our Elvis, Shane, and this is how he replied: “Thank you so much for your concern, Eric. It was real fun working with you, and, although we didn’t exactly hit too many of the town’s garden spots, it was a much more positive aspect of this city and of this country. Hopefully, in the end, that will win out. Thanks again…”
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