This photographer followed people looking for hidden treasure in France

Yvan, Paris, France. “The Blindest Man.” (Emily Graham)

A couple of years ago, I played the lottery every week. I’m human and fell prey to the false hope that thoughts of winning conjured in my mind. And I’m hardly alone.

Powerball tickets sell in over 40 U.S. states, and in Michigan on Halloween, lottery players were buying 160,000 tickets an hour. The promise of wealth, with all the fantasies that entails, is a very, very strong drug.

Photographer Emily Graham’s new book, “The Blindest Man” (Void, 2022), taps into 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 an author who then released a book containing eleven clues to where it is hidden. Some 30 years later, the sculpture remains to be found.

Graham spent three years following people looking for the treasure. Like a person buying a lottery ticket hoping to win, these people probably have visions of grandeur dancing through their heads, thinking about being the one who finally finds the Golden Owl.

The possibility of finding a treasure and being thrust into life-changing circumstances is a heavy, magnetic draw for just about all of us. Who wouldn’t love to come into a windfall of cash that could help them pay off bills, retire, and gain a speck of freedom in a sometimes claustrophobically constraining life?

Here’s more about the book from the publisher:

“The clues as to the whereabouts of the Chouette d’Or comprise of text and paintings and have [led] a large number of searchers 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 committed continue to search against a tide of rumour, misinformation and red-herrings clouding their investigations. Scientists, doctors, retirees, and artists all continue with elaborate calculations and theories as to the location of the cache. Each have their own ‘zone’ in which they scan the landscape, drawing conclusions from snapped branches, the contours of maps, and shadows crossing the land. Some are inspired to continue for 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 photos, and collected ephemera, thrust us into people’s quixotic attempts to find the treasure. There are equal parts yearning, mystery and even beauty in the images. Sometimes the images have a muted palette. But that never takes away from the magnetic power of the work to show people engaging in an act of faith, even if that eventually turns into a fool’s errand. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good description of life — following the cryptic messages life sends us on our daily journey toward whatever it is we are trying to find.

You can find out more about the book, and buy it, on the publisher’s website, here.

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