I am glad I made time to see this exhibition after the study visit to the Martin Parr Foundation. I’d seen some of the images online and was aware of the story but viewing the actual work up close and being led through the story made quite an impression on me.
This project explores a high-profile mystery in Iceland where following the disappearance of two people, Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson, in 1974, six prosecutions were made based on confessions which were later overturned.
Latham is concerned with the relationship between photography, truth and the uncertainty of memory. His recent project Parliament of Owls also investigates how the absence of facts can cause distortions in people’s beliefs with information vacuums leading to ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories. This work shows how a system anxious about organised crime and the corrupting influence of the outside world “eroded the link between suspect’s memories and lived experience.” 
According to the RPS blurb: “The exhibition brings together both original and site-specific photographs (portraits, street scenes, interiors and landscapes) with a range of archival material and diary excerpts to explore the case.” I guess ‘original’ in this context means not directly related to the case but an addition to the atmospherics/fictional narrative?
The forensic psychologist involved in the case, Gísli Guðjónsson, actually developed the theory of ‘memory distrust syndrome’ (MDS) as a result. The suspects were kept in solitary confinement and allegedly suffered water torture during an extreme interrogation. The MDS condition is when people ‘develop a profound distrust of their memory and become susceptible to relying on external cues and suggestions from others.’ .
Latham explains how he is exploring the ‘grey area’ between fact and fiction to be able to narrate complex stories with visual imagery. He has presented the facts in meticulous detail and with rigorous accuracy. But working with the surviving convicts and their families, he has tried to make a conspiracy theorist’s manifesto. 
“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.”
“Photographs are so often used as the anchor points of our history but at the same time, due to their silence and isolation from context they can only truly offer reflections of history.” 
The book has sold out (or costs crazy money on Amazon) but sounds to have been well-considered and designed with additional layers of meaning. BJP describes how the sequencing alludes to the interrogation technique of asking questions out of chronological order. “This was thought to stop people from lying, but has also been proven to make them susceptible to coercion. Some of the images are printed across the book’s ‘french folds’ — “so that the viewer never gets to see the ‘full picture’” — and onto silver paper, as a nod to the origins of photography and the notion of it as the “great equaliser of truth”, says Latham, adding: “Photographs have an innate authority about them; photography and memory are so intertwined. It was the perfect medium to explore the case.” ” 
The work reminds me somewhat of Alec Soth’s fantastic Broken Manual.
- Latham met and established personal relationships with the key protagonists as well as locating and photographing key sites from the investigation. Trust and collaboration were essential for the success – and richness – of the project.
- The mix of material creates a fascinating narrative – the text leads us at times to read the images in ways that are not true/accurate. This melding of fact and fiction appeals to me very much. For my own practice, I aim to explore using a documentary approach as a framework and then building out the narrative around it.
- The introductory panel at the RPS exhibition
- Information sheet supplied by the RPS
- https://vimeo.com/183797245 (viewed 1.1.20)
- https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/jack-latham-sugar-paper-theories-publication-photography-071019 (accessed 1.1.20)
- https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/sugar-paper-theories-jack-latham/ (accessed 1.1.20)