American photographer Amani Willett likes to trust his curiosity. He articulates his projects around discoveries, mysteries he solves with his camera. In his latest book, he tackles The disappearance of Joseph Plummer.

The first pages of Amani Willet’s book immerse us into a peaceful yet troubling world. Civilisation seems to have gone away, and the dark woods promise a journey into American myths and folklore. Silence is heavy, down to the photographs exalting the tranquility of this house, lost in the forest. The story takes us at the heart of this mysterious setting. An investigation, animated by pictures from then and now, and enigmatic texts that seem coded.

It all began when Amani was five years old. His father bought a land, and built a cabin there, tucked in the woods, away from the city. Every year ever since, the family has gone back to that place, learning to love the strange territory. In 2010, the photographer started to take interest in the land. ‘The cabin was on a lake called Hermit Lake, I was curious if it referenced someone who used to live in the area’, the photographer explains. ‘After doing a little research, I learned about Joseph Plummer who, in the late 1700s, had left his family for a life of solitude in the woods. He, too, had built a small cabin there’.

The hermit’s heritage

The story piqued Willett’s curiosity, and he started investigating Joseph Plummer’s life. Old newspapers, local archives, live witnesses… his research lead him to a fascinating past. Joseph Plummer inspired him, and, little by little, the story developed. ‘Most of my projects originate from a place of curiosity of looking. I collect images and raw materials, and then use it to sequence and craft into the stories I want to tell’, Amani tells us. The hermit then became a mysterious figure, tightly linked to his father. ‘Both men were drawn to the very same land. They both  marveled at the land’s sublime power’. Under the guise of investigating, Amani Willet’s book joins the ranks of great American novels on nature, and its strange toll on men. Admist the fragmented pictures, the disordered memories he gathered, the photographer talks about a return to wilderness. Men reconnecting with their instinct. Surviving, away from a civilisation that does not suit them. If Plummer fascinates the artist, it is because of his unshakable, animal strength. ‘Paradoxically, his desire to become invisible has only fueled people’s interest in him’, he concludes.

The disappearance of Joseph Plummer, Overlapse editions, 35 £, 136 p.

© Amani Willett