“The idea of a context vacuum is a fascinating one,” says Jack Latham of his BJP IPA winning series Parliament of Owls. “I think it’s only natural that we would want to fill these voids with theories.” Focusing on Bohemia Grove – an elite men’s club in California – Parliament of Owls explores the dangers of conspiracy theories and fake news. The club’s antics during its yearly retreats – often shrouded in secrecy – have become subject to allegations of devil worship and mock human sacrifice. “They say ‘conspiracy theories make sense of a senseless world’, and I would largely agree with that,” adds Latham.
The photographer’s winning series concerns itself, in particular, with the actions of a far-right conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, who runs the infamous website InfoWars, largely based off the profile he built for himself when he broke into Bohemia Grove to expose “the new world order” in 2000. Jones subsequently released video footage from inside the club, which provoked a bizarre attack on Bohemia Grove and introduced him to a mainstream audience. “Jones played a large part in Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 elections,” explains Latham. “Tracing his lineage back to the Grove is what this project is really about. I’m interested in the butterfly effect.”
Parliament of Owls gives only glimpses into Bohemian Grove, itself fuelling its mystery. Shot entirely in black and white, the series offers a view into the club’s winding path, or a photograph taken from the perspective of somebody hiding in the trees. The images are mysterious; they offer no answers of their own, and are therefore a vacuum of context themselves.
British Journal of Photography’s International Photography Award has long been seen as an entry point into the photography industry. Running for over a decade, the award has been instrumental in launching the careers of some of the world’s best respected contemporary photographers, culminating each year in a solo show at TJ Boulting gallery in London, which spotlights one outstanding project.
This year’s second and third place BJP IPA photographers are Valentine Bo and Emily Graham, whose work has been selected for its compelling narratives and innovative methods. Bo’s mockumentary – Your Next Step Would Be To Do The Transmission – creates a fictional narrative based around his interest in Raëlism, a cult-like religion founded in 1974, which is rooted in the belief that humans were put on Earth by extraterrestrials. Graham’s shortlisted series, The Blindest Man, is a visual expression of the curious world of an unresolved treasure hunt. In the photographs, she explores the oneiric space created by the dilemma of a pursuit with no answers.
Parliament of Owls is on show at TJ Boulting gallery from 24 July to 21 August 2019. The exhibition will be open to the public, and is an opportunity for people to come and see the work for themselves.