Taryn Simon starts from a documentary work, research. The photo series above are part of The Innocents, 2002. For those of you who follow me on twitter you may have read my dismay, I have already seen pictures of that serie, impossible to remember where, if it was in Düsseldorf or in New York… and yep it is frustrating.
What is interesting is the strenght of the picture which made me remember. The emotion coming through of the compositions even before I found out about the subject. The people are placed in a specific manner and they stare at the camera. There is some kind of despair and fatalism which come from their looks. You understand right away the gravity of the subject, and more afterwards when you discover the artist’s research. Taryn Simon has documented series of illegitimate conviction in the USA, people wrongly accused for crimes they did not commit. The artist takes the photographs on the striking locations of the trial, the one of the arrest, or the one where the crime was committed where the people never went before. Besides the shock, there is also a denonciation through the medium. In the stories Taryn Simon picked out, the photography was a crucial element and transformed through justice these innocents into criminals. The manipulation by the image, theme you can find again in many works by the artist. In my personal interpration I also see a way for these victims to take back their full posession of their “image” which was stolen from them. The Innocents comes along with a video, the artist interviews the subjects of her photographs, she talks about the striking moments : their arrest, the wrong identification and the tragic consequences. I did not go watch the video I confess the idea was torturing me, I find it very important and it may seem sensitive but I would be very uncomfortable I think. An interesting thing would have been to realise interviews, anonymous, of the people who wrongly condamned the victims. What do they feel ? do they believe they were fooled by these images ? were they conscious that the image could not give a certain answer ? it is not about denunciation but more to understand the domino effect of a wrong conviction and what it can unleash on every people involved.
The picture collection also talks about a research work. It articulates around the “46 artworks representing the iconographic archive files of the Public Library of New York.” Google’s ancestor. Everyone can go there and ask a file to access an answer, an image database, so it was the place where they would gather : teachers, researchers, artists, journalists, …Every image is classified in a specific file belonging to a specific theme. The images would interfold, the spectator would like to space them in order to seen all in once, but he can’t. The neutrality is then questionned, in the selection of images shown but also in their position. A way to reconsider our trust towards image search engines. I invite you to read the little tour book given in the exhibition because it gave me precious information about Taryn Simon’s work. “The picture collection was created as an answer to a digital database Image Atlas (2012) created by Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz” (The internet genius, activist, unfortunately recently deceased). To understand the concept go have a look www.imageatlas.org it “indexes the first results found on local search engines throughout the world using the same terms”. It allows to discover in a few seconds an anthropological and sociological study, geographically transversal. I don’t know how I did not heard of such an interesting project.
This serie, A living man declared dead and other chapters I-XVIII shows again injustice as a theme in the artist’s work, but also the image’s power and how it can used as manipulation. For 4 years the artist travelled and collected stories connecting different bloodlines within families. In each of the stories “exterior strengths, connected to matters of land, power, circumstances, or religion, go against the inside ones of heritage, physical and psychological”. First this theme appears both complicated and large. But as you discover the ones chosen and illustrated by the artist, you discover an impressive research work, combining the role of an historian, a journalist and an anthropologist.
I am only going to talk to you about one story for example, to understand the concept of the work done by the artist. But it goes even further into meaning and analysis, since like The picture collection, replace the story in our actual context. The story doesn’t repeat itself ad infinitum ? Shivdutt Yadav, (the composition is the one in the second picture) discovered almost by chance that according to official records he was declared dead. An almost harmless little story, one should think, a mistake which needs to be rectified and not a kafkaesque problem. However his lands were consequently not register in his name. They were transferred to other heirs from his father who were still alive. This composition reveals an important problem in India, the land is one of the main source of income to many, so it needs to be proected at all costs. Some employees of the cadaster are frequently bought to declare deceased people who are still alive and that way reallocate their lands.
The exhibition of Taryn Simon presents other artworks as interesting, but here are the 3 series who caught my attention. I really liked her research and analysis work she presents in parallel of a plastic proposition.
Vues arrières, nébuleuse stellaire et le bureau de la propagande extérieure, from February 24th to May 17th, Galerie du Jeu de Paume, Paris.