An Aura Up There

Photographs by Brian Shapiro
Interview via emails, March 2016

In Monte Rio, California, somewhere lost among the redwoods that line the Russian River, lies Bohemian Grove. Each summer, the campground is home to the mysterious Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and visited by the rich and powerful. The private, all-male social club, is exclusive and membership is guarded, but at least a few U.S. Presidents span a spectrum of visiting honorees to lifelong members.

Harvey Hancock at Bohemian Grove, 1967 [borrowed from Wikipedia]

The clubs rituals and its properties' borders are heavily protected, one to secrecy and the latter by an armed security team. When we connected with Brian Shapiro, an MFA candidate in photography at SFAI has been working on a photography project that investigates this curious place up in the woods, it was our first time hearing of this place; this place so close to our home in the Bay Area but at the same time so distant.

What is the story behind these photos, what is your project about?

I have been photographing the area surrounding the Bohemian Grove in the forests along the Russian River, where each summer the super powerful men of the world go for an alcohol fueled three week party, where the the rulers of the world discuss how they will divide the world's resources and worship a giant owl. Or at least that what the conspiracy theorist believe. Of course it is impossible for someone like me to get in. So instead I am photographing everything around the grove along with trying to get as much information about what goes on there through researching and interviewing anyone with a connection to the grove.

What inspired you to make this series?

I've also been obsessed with conspiracy theories. They are basically an alternative to reality. A way to explain the chaos in the world. Add to that I can't stand being told there is a spot on the map that I am not allowed to go to has been the fuel for this project. There is a aura up there among the trees that one can feel.

Why draws you to photography?

A camera allows me some sort of passport, a free pass to go where ever you want. I like being able to bring back evidence of where I have been. It feels like hunting to me, bringing home some trophy buck. (I assume, I have never been hunting).