Behind the photograph

Behind the photograph

The art of Taryn Simon

The American artist Taryn Simon (b. 1975) never photographs for the purpose of presenting the possibilities of the medium nor shooting the perfect image. Her practice involves extensive research and is guided by a great interest in systems of categorization and classification. She combines her photographs with impersonal, neutral texts, this way imposing the illusion of objectivity on the nature of her subjects. Her work frequently addresses complicated narratives in contemporary politics and blurs the boundaries between reportage, conceptualism and portraiture.

She made a name with An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007), a work that delves into and reveals sites, objects and spaces that are integral to America’s foundation, day to day operations or mythology, but remain inaccessible or unknown to the general public. Behind every image lie years of meticulous research, culminating in one single photograph accompanied with text.

The subjects are taken from science, entertainment, nature, religion, national security, medicine and politics. They are often both detached and ominous: radioactive capsules at a nuclear waste storage facility in Washington State; a bio-containment laboratory where deadly animal diseases are studied; the art collection of the CIA at the headquarters at Langley; a death row outdoor recreational cage.

Though Simon’s work is highly conceptual, it is also strangely relatable. She is able to catalogue the mundane objects and scenes of our lives while lightly pointing to the charged nature of what they symbolize politically. Nothing is what it seems. There is more to the eye.