One doesn’t start by asking one and all where a treasure is. That’s an opener, but a better questioning method is to express interest in local recluses, scandals, missing fortunes, rags to riches, back to rags stories, murders, suicides, once-rich families now poor, robberies, and that sort of thing. Don’t be afraid that a good many people will think you a bit touched. They will and that’s ok. That’s part of the price of being a treasure hunter.
– H. Glenn Carson, from Cache Hunting
Weaving together a tapestry of photographs, original and found text, historic imagery, and typographic symbols, Misplaced Fortunes operates as a literal and metaphoric treasure hunt. Using the myth of General Edward Braddock’s pay-chest as a starting point, this lyrical book navigates three centuries of history, legend and lies to explore America’s colonialist ambitions, its obsession with progress, and the stories we choose to tell about it.
Rooted in documentary photographic traditions, these images are both objective and enigmatic. Through careful sequencing, symbolic connections are made, clues are left and a narrative path is forged. Images of holes, X’s, unintended cairns, remnants, and monuments are strewn throughout the sequence, constituting a kind of thematic treasure hunt for meaning amongst seemingly disparate photographs. Edith Fikes’ short story “Eagle Street House” provides further context and narrative specificity, but it also blurs the lines between fiction and documentary and undermines our ability to parse the boundaries between truth, myth and lie.
Searching for a treasure that was likely never lost to begin with could be seen as an act of futility. But Mantle’s pursuit of it, metaphorically, allows for degrees of surrealism and absurdity to emerge in the storytelling, attributes that only complicate the way that Misplaced Fortunes depicts Appalachia.
In the end, this book is a treasure hunt, a colonialist road trip, a study of road building, an anecdote about American expansion and an analogy for the process of looking that is the foundation of all photographic exploration.
Sleeper is a publishing project working with photography, design, and text to realize artists’ ideas in printed form. While books will always be a core part of our output, we identify more as a studio than strictly as a publisher. As a studio we can cultivate a fluid and experimental practice that is more concerned with bringing certain ideas to life than it is about producing a particular kind of object.
Sleeper is Ben Alper and Ross Mantle and operates out of Carrboro, NC and Pittsburgh, PA.
Ross Mantle — rossmantle.com / Instagram.