A few years ago I played the lottery every week. I am human and fell prey to the false hope that thoughts of winning conjured up in my mind. And I’m hardly alone.
Powerball tickets are sold in more than 40 US states, and in Michigan on Halloween, lottery players bought 160,000 tickets per hour. The promise of wealth, with all the fantasies it entails, is a very, very strong drug.
The photographer Emily Graham’s new book, “The Blindest Man” (Void, 2022), is in a similar vein. But instead of lottery hopefuls, Graham’s book follows people searching for an elusive and legendary treasure, the “Chouette d’Or,” or Golden Owl, located somewhere in France.
The Golden Owl is a sculpture that was buried by a writer who then released a book containing eleven clues to where it was hidden. Some 30 years later, the sculpture can still be found.
Graham spent three years chasing people looking for the treasure. Like a person who buys a lottery ticket and hopes to win, these people probably have visions of grandeur dancing through their heads, thinking of being the one to finally find the Golden Owl.
The possibility of finding a treasure and being thrust into life-changing circumstances is a heavy, magnetic pull for just about all of us. Who wouldn’t love to come into a windfall of cash that can help them pay off bills, retire, and gain a slice of freedom in a sometimes claustrophobically restrictive life?
Here is more about the book from the publisher:
“The clues about where the Chouette d’Or consists of text and paintings and has [led] a large number of seekers across the landscape of France. The game was designed to last two or maybe three years and searching for the treasure became a common pastime in France. The author – who was originally anonymous – is now dead, and only the truly dedicated continue to search against a tide of rumours, misinformation and red herrings clouding their investigations. Scientists, doctors, retirees and artists all continue with elaborate calculations and theories about the location of the cache. Each has their own ‘zone’ in which they scan the landscape and draw conclusions from clipped branches, the contours of maps and shadows that cross the land. Some are inspired to continue for the challenge of code-breaking, others for philosophical reflection, an adventure or a way of experiencing and seeing, a lens through which to look.”
Graham’s photographs, and collected ephemera, plunged us into people’s quixotic efforts to find the treasure. There is equal parts longing, mystery and even beauty in the images. Sometimes the images have a muted palette. But it never takes away from the magnetic power of the work to show people engaging in an act of faith, even if it ends up turning into a fool. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good description of life – following the cryptic messages life sends us on our daily journey to whatever it is we’re trying to find.
You can find out more about the book, and buy it, on the publisher’s website, here.