Jack Latham

Helen on L3 mentioned the work of Jack Latham during one of the Documentary hangouts quite a while ago and after looking at his work I realised that it ties in quite nicely with what I have planned for my A5.

The subject of Latham’s body of work – Parliament of Owls – is the exclusive gentlemen’s San Francisco Bohemian Club (founded in 1872). The club is situated in the redwood forests of Monte Rio, California and is frequented by the political and business elite of the world every summer. The secret activities that take place at the club have given rise to many rumours and conspiracy theories.

Latham presents his work in Black and White, which lends an aura of darkness and mystery to the general theme. I found certain images quite disturbing, an overwhelming sense of surveillance also runs through the work. The club is situated in a real back of the beyond hick-billy town, the locals looking almost as dangerous as the rumours that abound about the place.

Latham intersperses his images of the landscape with portraits of different kinds of owls standing on a perch in a studio-type setting. This incongruous punctuation  of owls most probably signifying the “wise men who run the country” and the fact that owls usually operate under cover of darkness lends credence to the “shroud of secrecy” that envelopes the gentlemen’s club. I find this juxtapositioning rather chilling in fact. But the owls also reference the annual play that is put on when these “wise men” meet, namely the “Cremation of Care” which takes place in the redwood forest in front of the Owl Shrine (Cremation of Care, 2019).

I did wonder about the undisclosed location of the post box and Infowars studio, both located in Austin, but then after doing a little more research, discovered that this links to the radio show host Alex Jones, who runs a website, InfoWars, based on conspiracy theories. Jones in 2000 infiltrated the grove and recorded some of the activities that happened there, which resulted in his documentary Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove.

Jack Latham’s body of work Sugar Paper Theories is a photographic investigation of the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur murder case in Iceland in the 1970s. Latham photographed key people involved in the investigation as well as locations and also incorporated archival photographic evidence from the police files. He also draws on conspiracy theories, diary entries and court files.

Speaking about the use of original and archival photos in the same body of work, Latham says: “I feel there is an interesting power dynamic when combining photographs that were used with evidence and then photographs made in response to the case. It creates a tension and authority that perhaps shouldn’t be there” (Boddington, 2019). I find this remark about the authority quite interesting. This is definitely evident if one doesn’t know the backstory before viewing the work. But even after learning that quite a lot of the photographs are not forensic in nature, it still comes across as an incredibly powerful piece of work, extremely well thought out, planned, even right down to the name of the project. I had wondered how Latham came up with the name Sugar Paper Theories, firstly not knowing what sugar paper is, but subsequently learning it is what we call construction paper here in North America, and secondly learning that the name references a conspiracy theorist who was extremely interested in the case and who drew out his timelines of events on sugar paper. This shows me how important the name of a project is and that it should be conceived with great care.

Sugar Paper Theories sees Bristol-based photographer Jack Latham, immerse himself in the most controversial murder investigation in Icelandic history, the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case. From meeting key protagonists to locating and photographing key sites of the investigation, the project brings together original photographs with a range of archival and documentary materials to explore the fundamental relationship between photography and truth.

(RPS.org, s.d.)

The RPS website presents a variety of excellent resources that can be used when viewing the exhibition. These resources touch on issues of memory, Latham’s use of appropriated images from police files, forensic photography, context, the way Latham colour coded his pages: “reenactment photos taken from police archives (on black paper), related newspaper articles (on pink paper), diary entries from one of the suspects (on thin white paper), and detailed explanatory texts (on yellow paper)” . There are also podcasts with some of the people involved in the case. Latham’s book is supplemented by text from the forensic psychology professor involved in the case, Gísli Guðjónsson.

This book greatly intrigues me and I have ordered it through Amazon so that I can study it in more detail. I probably won’t receive it in time to review it before my assignment is due as it is not available through Amazon Prime unfortunately, but I’m sure it will be useful for subsequent work.

Bibliography

Boddington, R. (2019) Jack Latham’s Sugar Paper Theories explores Iceland’s most infamous double murder. At: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/jack-latham-sugar-paper-theories-publication-photography-071019 (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Cremation of Care (2019) In: Wikipedia. At: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cremation_of_Care&oldid=929987668 (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove (2000) (2019) Directed by Understate. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3wf_jFV0NU (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Jack Latham – Parliament of Owls (2019) Directed by PhotoBookStore.co.uk. At: https://vimeo.com/360791180 (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Latham, J. (2017) Sugar Paper Theories. At: https://www.jacklatham.com/project/sugar-paper-theories/mwq1qn15us1wvn9py3utnajb4nap1u (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Latham, J. (2019) Parliament of Owls. At: https://www.jacklatham.com/project/parliament-of-owls/57yz2l3sse9p5laejcws3s3phlpks0 (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Roberts, S. (2019) BJP International Photography Award: Jack Latham is our 2019 winner – British Journal of Photography. At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/06/bjp-international-photography-award-jack-latham-is-our-2019-winner/ (Accessed  10/03/2020).

RPS.org (s.d.) Sugar Paper Theories. At: https://rps.org/events/bristol/2019/november/sugar-paper-theories/ (Accessed  10/03/2020).

RPS.org (s.d.) Sugar paper Theories. At: https://www.photopedagogy.com/sugar-paper-theories.html (Accessed  10/03/2020).

Warner, M. (2019) Sugar Paper Theories: Iceland’s notorious case of memory implantation. At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/sugar-paper-theories-jack-latham/ (Accessed  10/03/2020).

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