Burrowed within the redwood forests of Monte Rio in northern California, there sits a place of utmost secrecy. Bohemian Grove – a 2,700-acre retreat owned by the San Fransisco-based gentlemen’s club, the Bohemian Club, founded in 1872 – is the home of a yearly two-week summer retreat that is frequented by the political and business elite of the world.
With members such as former US presidents, senior media executives and high-profile men in positions of power, the club is concealed with confidentiality, the unknown activities taking place at the Grove stirring countless conspiracy theories and rumours. So much so, that in 2000, the then-unknown Alex Jones – founder of InfoWars, the far-right American conspiracy theory and fake news website – broke into the retreat in an attempt to expose it. This lead to a groundbreaking film that saw the “Cremation of Care” come into public light – that is, a ceremony which an effigy of the members’ “worldly cares” is burnt. Alex even claimed, and still does, that the world elite members of the occult would potentially partake in human sacrifice.
Unsurprisingly, the chronicles of Bohemian Grove attracted the attention of the Bristol-based photographer, Jack Latham. In his new series and publication, Parliament of Owls, published by London-based Here Press, he targets and investigates the mystery and theories surrounding the event. “Bohemian Grove is shrouded in secrecy, it doesn’t share with the public its events, membership list or lakeside talks,” Jack tells It’s Nice That. “This is one of the largest gatherings of wealth and politics that happens yearly and the public are excluded from knowing what goes on inside. This vacuum on information creates ample opportunities for others to project new meaning, disinformation and conspiracy theories about the events inside. Some of which have real-world effects as a result.”
Although unsure of where he first heard about Bohemian Grove – “I think I first read about it in Jon Ronson’s Them” – Jack has spent the past few years working around conspiracy theories, as seen in his previous project Sugar Paper Theories. Within Parliament of Owls, he blends a fascinating mixture of his own black and white photography with 13 transcripts from various sources, as well as an essay by Professor Peter Phillips. With 73 images in total, Jack captures the Bohemian Car Park in Monte Rio, the main stage at Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, a strip club in San Fransisco, as well as numerous characters wearing masks – as seen in Mary as Nixon, Camp Meeker.
A key subject, as per the series’ title, is the owl. “The owl is the Bohemian Club’s mascot,” says Jack. “I would imagine it was chosen because it has historically been associated with wisdom and intellect.” It’s also been documented that the members worship a “45-foot stone owl god,” as stated by Alex in his film and excerpt published in Parliament of Owls. The owl is indeed symbolic for wisdom, but also references truth and knowledge – something which is ironically lacking with the stories of Bohemian Grove. So perhaps we can look at Jack’s series as a piece of commentary on the need to conspire against the untold. But what is it that draws people towards conspiracy theories? And why are we lured in by the unknown? In light of Bohemian Grove, it seems we will never truly know.