Taryn Simon

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Taryn Simon
Born (1975-02-04) February 4, 1975 (age 40)
New York
Nationality American
Education Brown University
Known for Conceptual Art
Notable work Image Atlas, Picture Collection, Black Square, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII, Contraband, Zahra/Farah, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Nonfiction, The Innocents
Movement Contemporary Art
Spouse(s) Jake Paltrow
Awards Guggenheim Fellowship, The Alfred Eisenstaedt Award in Photography, International Center for Photography Infinity Award for publication, KLM Paul Huf Award

Taryn Simon (born February 4, 1975) is an American artist. Simon’s artistic medium consists of three equal elements: photography, text, and graphic design. Her practice involves extensive research, in projects guided by an interest in systems of categorization and classification. She is a graduate of Brown University and a 2001 Guggenheim Fellow.[1]

Simon’s photographs and writing have been the subject of monographic exhibitions at institutions including Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2012); Tate Modern, London (2011); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2011); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2008); Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2004); and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2003). Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Whitney Museum, Centre Pompidou, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2011 her work was included in the 54th Venice Biennale.[2][3]


Simon was born in New York, to Susan and Richard Simon.[4] Her father and grandfather both worked extensively with image and text. This is a tradition that she follows in her own work.[5] She initially pursued environmental sciences at Brown University but quickly transferred to a degree in art semiotics, simultaneously taking photography classes at the neighboring Rhode Island School of Design. She received her BA in 1997.[6] She has been a visiting artist at institutions including Yale University, Bard College, Columbia University, School of Visual Arts, and Parsons School of Design.[7]


Since 2003 Simon has published four major bodies of work and exhibited them internationally. In addition, she has completed a number of other photographic projects. Her series The Innocents (2003) documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit. At issue is the question of photography's function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice. In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007) Simon uses highly structured photographs and texts to compile an inventory of what lies hidden and out-of-view within the borders of the United States. In her project Black Square (2006-2011) Simon photographed disorienting subjects, each highlighting a specific cultural complexity, collapse or ambiguity within the exact frame size as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Suprematist masterpiece. Contraband (2010) is a massive photographic documentation of illegal items detained or seized by United States Customs and Postal officials at John F. Kennedy Airport. For her most recent work, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII (2012), Simon traveled around the world researching and recording eighteen bloodlines and their related stories.

Image Atlas (2012)[edit]

Created as part of rhizome.org's Seven on Seven[8] conference Image Atlas is a collaborative project between Simon and the programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz.[9] Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local engines throughout the world. Users can refine or expand their comparisons from 57 countries and sort by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alphabetical order.[10] In an extensive article on the Seven on Seven conference Ben Davis writes that "Simon suggested that the site might cut against 'the illusion of flattening' on the Web, offering some way of recovering a sense of the local."[11] Image Atlas has been described as, "an elegant project in that it demonstrated how something as fundamental to web interaction as "searching" is actually bound and determined by many cultural and political forces."[12] Curator Lauren Cornell, Adjunct Curator and former Director of Rhizome stated, "The Image Atlas proposes a singular method of retrieving and comparing pictures, to demonstrate the difference in a world supposedly flattened by the forces of the global economy."[13]

Picture Collection (2012)[edit]

This body of work examines a theme that is present in much of Simon’s work, that of examining how the photographic image is classified and catalogued.[14] Established in 1915, The New York Public Library Picture Collection is the largest circulating picture library in the world. The Picture Collection contains original prints, photographs, posters, postcards and illustrations from books, magazines and newspapers, classified into 12,000 subject headings.[15] Simon states, "This is the early seeds of Google Image but every image has been curated. The collection has been put together by a team of individuals over a tremendous period of time. The images have been hand cut from books or magazines. It is a beautiful and precious thing. And I just shot what was in each folder."[16]

Black Square (2006-2012)[edit]

The subjects of Simon's project, Black Square are drawn from a wide span of cultural subcategories, including nature, science, government, and religion, and range from eccentric to haunting—from a book included in an official American time capsule teaching a distant future about a language called “English”; to a blue and gold macaw suffering from feather destructive disorder due to boredom and a lack of companionship in captivity; to roiling flames exploding from the sides of a Toyota Corolla during a demonstration of a paradoxically violent anti-hijacking system.

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters[edit]

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters was produced with a 4x5 Sinar camera[5] over a four-year period (2008–11), during which the Simon travelled around the world researching and recording bloodlines and their related stories.

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, Neue Nationalgalerie, Germany

In each of the eighteen ‘chapters’ that make up the work, the external forces of territory, power, circumstance or religion collide with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance. The subjects Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate. In Beyond Photography, the essay that [Homi Bhabha] contributed to the book, he writes, "Simon juxtaposes the visual and the textual in a kind of montage which is neither totalising or teleological. Her critique of progressivism leads her to describe her concatenation of image and text in the following way:

'There is no end result. There is only disorientation or the unknown. It's an equation that folds out on itself again and again. X+Y does not equal something. It doesn't equal infinity either. It just mutates into another question.'[17]

Such a statement is difficult to reconcile with an art that has demonstrated a sustained formal interest in lists, catalogues, indexes, collections, case studies, and assemblages."[18]

Contraband (Steidl/Gagosian, 2010, ISBN 978-3-86930-134-1)[edit]

Contraband is an archive of global desires and perceived threats, presenting 1,075 images of items that were detained or seized from passengers and mail entering the United States from abroad, taken at both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York.

From November 16, 2009 through November 20, 2009, Taryn Simon remained on site at JFK and continuously photographed items detained or seized from passengers and express mail entering the United States from abroad.

Zahra/Farah (2008)[edit]

Director Brian De Palma asked Simon to take the photograph that is the final frame of his 2007 film Redacted. She traveled to Jordan to shoot a young Iraqi actress, Zahra Zubaidi, posed as if lying raped and burned, the victim of American soldiers. Zubaidi received death threats from family members, who consider Redacted pornographic, and was seeking asylum in the U.S. Simon arranged for the photograph to be shown at the 2011 Venice Biennale to draw attention to Zubaidi’s situation.[19] De Palma and Simon discussed their work and their methods in a conversation published in Art Forum in 2012.[19]

BDP: Look, the hard thing—I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too—is that once you have a project, you think about how you’re going to photograph the scene until you actually do it. I have always felt that the camera view is just as important as what’s in front of the camera. Consequently, I’m obsessed with how I’m shooting the scene. When you’re making a movie, you think about it all the time—you’re dreaming about it, you wake up with ideas in the middle of the night—until you actually go there and shoot it. You have these ideas that are banging around in your head, but once you objectify them and lock them into a photograph or cinema sequence, then they get away from you. They’re objectified; they no longer haunt you. TS: The haunting can be torturous. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the making of my work. It’s a labor. Do you find pleasure in getting to that point of objectification? BDP: You know, there is no rest.[19]

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (Steidl, 2007, ISBN 9783865213808)[edit]

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar reveals objects, sites, and spaces that are integral to America's foundation, mythology, or daily functioning but remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. These unseen subjects range from radioactive capsules at a nuclear waste storage facility to a black bear in hibernation to the art collection of the CIA. Simon has stated that she, "wanted to confront the divide between public and expert access."[20] The publication features 70 colour plates and a foreword by Salman Rushdie. Ronald Dworkin contributed a commentary, while curators Elisabeth Sussman and Tina Kukielski of the Whitney Museum of American Art contributed an introduction. It was published by Steidl and exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2006. As of late 2007 it was on view at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany.[21][22] She discussed the project with photography historian Geoffrey Batchen for the 8th volume of Museo.

The Innocents (Umbrage, 2003, ISBN 9781884167188)[edit]

The Innocents (2003) documents the stories of individuals who were wrongly sentenced to death or life sentences, and were released due to DNA evidence. The project focuses on the role of photographic evidence in these erroneous convictions.

Simon has commented: "For the men and women in these photographs, the primary cause of wrongful conviction was mistaken identification. A victim or eyewitness identifies a suspected perpetrator through law enforcement’s use of photographs and lineups. [...] In our reliance upon [DNA evidence], we marginalize the majority of the wrongfully convicted, for whom there is no DNA evidence, or those for whom the cost of DNA testing is prohibitive."[23] This project inspired her to apply for and be awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Photography to travel across the United States photographing and interviewing individuals who were unfairly convicted.[24] Simon photographed the men at sites that had particular significance to their illegitimate conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the scene of the crime or the scene of the alibi.[25] In Simon's forward for the book she writes, "Photography's ability to blur truth and fiction is one if its most compelling qualities... Photographs in the criminal justice system, and elsewhere, can turn fiction into fact. As I got to know the men and women in this book, I saw that photography's ambiguity, beautiful in one context, can be devastating in another."[26]

In 2002, Simon worked with Joseph Logan to turn The Innocents into a book. Logan has since collaborated on all four of Simon’s books.[5] The book was published in 2003 by Umbrage Books with commentary provided by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project. The Innocence Project provides pro bono legal representation on behalf of people seeking to prove their innocence post-conviction.[27] Neufeld and Scheck remark in their commentary in the book that, "As much as these remarkable photographs of the innocents and their families bear witness to the forces that led to this immense suffering, so, too, do they oblige us to ponder their survival."[26]

Public Collections[edit]


  • Kunst-werke, Berlin, Germany, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents (and other works)" (2003)
  • MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York, USA, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2003).[28]
  • Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, Norway, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2004)
  • Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, USA, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2004)[29]
  • Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2006).[30]
  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, "Taryn Simon: Nonfiction" (2006).
  • Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, The Documentary Factor, (2006).
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2007).[31]
  • Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2007).
  • Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar " (2008).
  • The 7th Gwangju Biennale Annual Report: A Year in Exhibitions, Gwangju, South Korea, (2008).
  • FOAM, Fotografie Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2008).
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, “Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography”, (2008).
  • Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland, “Political/Minimal”, (2009).
  • Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France, (2009).
  • Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2010).
  • Lever House, New York, NY, “Contraband”, (2010).[32]
  • Almine Rech Gallery, Brussels, Belgium, “Contraband”, (2010).[33]
  • Les Rencontres d'Arles, France.[34]
  • Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2012.[35]
  • Helsinki Art Museum, "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2012.[36]
  • Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia, “Taryn Simon", 2011.[37]
  • Tate Modern, London, England, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2011.[38]
  • Taryn Simon, Venice Biennale, Danish Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2011.
  • Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2011.[39]
  • Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2012.[40]
  • Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, France, "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters", 2012.[41]
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters", 2012.[42]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ Guggenheim Fellowship http://www.gf.org/fellows/all/
  2. ^ Gagosian Gallery http://www.gagosian.com/artists/taryn-simon
  3. ^ Venice Biennale
  4. ^ "Taryn’s World". W Magazine. 
  5. ^ a b c Joan Juliet Buck (November 2011), Taryn’s World W.
  6. ^ Taryn Simon Yale University School of Art, New Haven.
  7. ^ Sean O'Hagan (May 22, 2011), Taryn Simon: the woman in the picture The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Rhizome's Seven On Seven Conference". rhizome.org. 
  9. ^ "Seven on Seven 2012: Aaron Swartz and Taryn Simon". Vimeo. 
  10. ^ New Museum Exhibitions [1] The New Museum.
  11. ^ "Can Artists Help Us Reboot Humanism in an Over-Connected Age? - BLOUIN ARTINFO". Artinfo. 
  12. ^ "Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz: Image Atlas - Hacker News". ycombinator.com. 
  13. ^ "Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz: Image Atlas". newmuseum.org. 
  14. ^ Exhibit-E. "John Berggruen Gallery". berggruen.com. 
  15. ^ Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection
  16. ^ Wallpaper Magazine October 2012, pg. 152
  17. ^ Private correspondence between Taryn Simon and Homi Bhabha
  18. ^ Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ever Airport, Contraband, 2010
  19. ^ a b c Art Forum, Summer, 2012, page 249
  20. ^ Art Forum, Summer 2012
  21. ^ "archivetarynsimon". arttattler.com. 
  22. ^ "The Photographers' Gallery - The Photographers' Gallery". The Photographers' Gallery. 
  23. ^ http://www.mocp.org/exhibitions/2005/08/taryn_simon_the.php
  24. ^ Taryn Simon: The Innocents, May 11 — August 31, 2003 MoMA PS1, New York.
  25. ^ Taryn Simon: The Innocents, June 11 - July 31, 2004 Gagosian Gallery, London.
  26. ^ a b The Innocents, Umbrage Editions, 2003
  27. ^ "The Innocence Project - Home". innocenceproject.org. 
  28. ^ "MoMA PS1: Exhibitions: Taryn Simon: The Innocents". ps1.org. 
  29. ^ http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/beverly-hills-2004-06-taryn-simon/
  30. ^ "Exhibitions". contemporaryartscenter.org. 
  31. ^ http://www.whitney.org/www/exhibition/past.jsp
  32. ^ "Home". leverhouseartcollection.com. 
  33. ^ "Almine Rech Gallery". alminerech.com. 
  34. ^ "Les Rencontres d'Arles Rencontres d'Arles: expositions, stages photo / exhibitions, photo workshops.". rencontres-arles.com. 
  35. ^ Milwaukee Art Museum. "Milwaukee Art Museum - Exhibitions". mam.org. 
  36. ^ http://www.hel.fi/hki/Taimu/en/Art+Museum+Meilahti/Meilahti_nayttely_1_enTaryn Simon
  37. ^ "Innocence of the guilty: Taryn Simon’s retrospective opens in Moscow". rt.com. 
  38. ^ "Taryn Simon - Tate". tate.org.uk. 
  39. ^ Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Generaldirektion. "Kalender". smb.museum. 
  40. ^ "Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow - Exhibitions - Taryn Simon - Photographs and Texts". Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. 
  41. ^ "Almine Rech Gallery". alminerech.com. 
  42. ^ "MoMA". moma.org. 

External links[edit]