Taryn Simon

The Burden of Doubt

photography by Rachel Chandler
text Becky Elmquist

 

“…ONLY THROUGH SKEPTICISM CAN WE HOPE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON,” WRITES NATO THOMPSON IN SEEING POWER: ART AND ACTIVISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

Operating on the grounds of curious skepticism, artist Taryn Simon’s work investigates the tangled relationship between truth and fiction. Simon has devoted her photographic practice to communicating through image and text the psychology of apparent truths. This guiding principle unearths and questions notions of certainty and a singular truth. Simon’s work is rooted in research, interviews, and access to locations and subjects that are often unknown, overlooked, or deeply steeped in myth and misconception. The photographs resulting from these laborious investigations often require viewers to suspend ingrained constructs and realities. In Simon’s work images and text inform and interplay with one another to provide a contextual narrative. This narrative reveals the complexity of imagery’s influence on memory in cases of mistaken identity and blurred realities in the presentation of apparent fact. Simon’s photographs are often burdensome in their revelation of truths and ask their viewer to bear witness to uncomfortable and difficult realities.
Her work is at once provocative and comforting, hard-hitting, and lyrical. In 2002, Simon introduced The Innocents, a series that documents individuals throughout the United States who were wrongfully convicted of crimes and exonerated only after DNA tests were presented as evidence.

Simon’s photographic inquiries of these individuals reveal the convictions were a product of mistaken identification. Simon also exposes the ways in which photography can be used by the criminal justice system to replace memory and have a powerful influence on the interpretation of evidence and the outcome of sentences. The location of each portrait was important to Simon who chose to photograph the victims at the scene of their alleged crime, misidentification, or alibi location. Simon worked closely with Innocence Project and lawyers who worked to free the subjects to construct the true narrative of the crime. “The number of people I photographed was the number of people who had been exonerated using DNA evidence. That was everyone,” says Simon.

 

  Download MUSE 44 – Digital Issue to read the full text.