mono.kultur

#15: Taryn Simon 

Mag mono.kultur

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Interview by Kai von Rabenau
Photography by Taryn Simon
Design by Maayan Malka

My response to fear has always been to confront it.

A nuclear waste storage facility with its containers, glowing a dark blue, suspended deep into water tanks; a cryopreservation unit preserving humans in a frozen state for a future promising new medical possibilities; the blank stares of young members of the Ku Klux Klan — in her new book An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, photographer Taryn Simon unveils sights and locations one often would not even suspect existed; and, in some cases, one even might have preferred to remain in the dark. Taking us on a rollercoaster ride into the underworld of the United States, from military sites to Hollywood to religious phenomena to sociological curiosities, one cannot help but wonder at the complexity but also the strangeness of the foundations of our civilization. Revealing the bones of the power structures and mythologies at the core of the American dream, with an unwavering relentlessness bordering on obsession, Taryn Simon uses photography as a means of exploration, as a tool that allows you to see what is not meant to be seen. With its literally incredible subject matter and the assured production, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar is easily one of the most significant and exciting works of art to be shown and published this year, earning Taryn Simon solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and the MMK in Frankfurt.

At only 32, Taryn Simon has not only perfected a surprisingly strong and focused visual identity; she has also produced an astonishing body of work. She studied Environmental Sciences at Brown University before opting for photography as a career, and is now living and working in her birthplace, New York City. Rapidly gaining a reputation in editorial work for some high-profile publications such as Vanity Fair, i-D and The New Yorker, it was a commission by The New York Times Magazine that put her on the right track: Asked to portray some wrongfully convicted and imprisoned men and women, she was intrigued by the role of photography in the misidentification in these cases and decided to take the project further. Supported by a Guggenheim fellowship, she photographed dozens of victims over several years, finally published and exhibited as The Innocents, introducing a highly sensitive political issue into gallery spaces.

Stylistically, Taryn Simon continues to work on the borderline between fine art and documentary photography. Frequently relying on text to avoid any ambiguities in content, she applies methods of advertising photography to journalism, creating carefully staged and manipulated tableaux that gain their force from the friction between their visual perfection and the unsettling subject matter. Taryn Simon has perfected this duality with An American Index, a project she pursued over four years and which marks a shift from portraiture to spaces and still lifes. In their aesthetic beauty and eerie stillness, but also in the often shockingly banal reality of places of high power and significance, the images exude simultaneously a sense of depth and of shallowness that are not only visually fascinating but uncomfortably disturbing in all their unexpected nakedness.

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