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2019 Portfolio Prize Runner-Up: Jack Latham

In the age of fake news, Jack Latham investigates the secret society that has inspired conspiracy theories, protests, and attacks since its founding days in 1872.

By Emily Stewart

Jack Latham, The Phantom Patriot, Nevada, 2018, from the series Parliament of Owls

In the redwood forests of Monte Rio, California, sits an expansive 2,700-acre retreat where, every summer, an elite invitation-only social club founded by a group of male artists, writers, actors, lawyers, and journalists meets. The Bohemian Club, founded in 1872, has inspired conspiracy theories, protests, and attacks since its founding days. In Jack Latham’s new project, Parliament of Owls, he investigates the secrecy of the club and the wider political effects this has caused.

What happens when the country’s top lawmakers, politicians, artists, lawyers, and businessmen meet behind closed doors? What secrets are being swapped, plans being made? For years these questions have been at the root of protest groups and journalists hoping to expose the truth. Latham takes the viewer on a journey of discovery, showcasing the town surrounding Bohemian Grove (the club’s rural outpost) and its people. His photographs also depict the rise of Alex Jones—conspiracy theorist and founder of InfoWars—and how his break-in at the Grove led him to become a household name with the antiestablishment crowd. In 2000, Jones released alarmist footage of the club’s “Cremation of Care” ceremony, which inspired the attempted attack led by “Phantom Patriot” Richard McCaslin two years later.

Latham describes his work as “an attempt to explore the dangers within society when voids of context are challenged.” His images are beautiful and thought-provoking, often leaving the viewer feeling mystified and intrigued. Because nonmembers aren’t allowed inside, Latham instead photographs spaces that are in some way tied to the club and its members—for instance, his image of an empty, glittery stage was taken in a strip club owned by two members. In one of Latham’s photographs, three Bohemian Club members can be seen standing on a viewing platform inside the Grove. The image is taken at such a distance that the members almost disappear into the surrounding forest, solidifying the fact that for the majority of us, the club will always be a remote mystery.

 

Jack Latham, Viewing Platform, 2018, from the series Parliament of Owls

Jack Latham, Main Stage at the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, San Francisco, 2018, from the series Parliament of Owls

Jack Latham, Great Grey Owl, 2018, from the series Parliament of Owls

Jack Latham, Mary as Nixon, Camp Meeker, 2018, from the series Parliament of Owls

Jack Latham (born in Cardiff, 1989) is a Welsh photographer based in the United Kingdom. His work primarily focuses on aspects of storytelling throughout society, which he presents using large-format photography or realizes within photobooks. Latham is the author of Sugar Paper Theories (2016), which was shortlisted for the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation and Kraszna Krausz photobook awards. He is currently working on his latest project, Parliament of Owls, which focuses on Bohemian Grove, a private men’s club in Northern California.

Emily Stewart is the manager of education and engagement programs of Aperture Foundation. All images courtesy the artist.

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