Taryn Simon at Jeu de Palme
Possibly the most interesting photography I’ve seen in Paris this trip is Taryn Simon’s ‘The Innocents’, part of a larger exhibition of her work at the Jeu de Palme entitled ‘Rear Views, A Star-forming Nebula, and the Office of Foreign Propaganda’.
‘The Innocents’, 2002, concerns American men and women who had been convicted for crimes they did not commit. A major culprit in obtaining the conviction was photography which, along with line ups, led to eye witnesses mistakenly identifying the supposed criminals. The agent of freeing the wrongfully imprisoned was DNA testing – science versus human visual error.
To say that the large portraits of the exonerated in places that related to the crime or their arrest were powerful and evocative, seems dubious after photography has taken a beating for its role in the justice system. But the sober, moody work successfully straddled portrait, fiction and historical reference. Knowledge of the project was necessary to view the images but the power of portraits took that knowledge to another level.
The balance of the exhibition consisted of projects crossing photography, text and graphic design. The conceptual series concerned knowledge and power and the politics of representation – items seized by U.S. Customs at JFK, objects and sites essential to America’s functioning but inaccessible to the public, and other similar concepts, culminating in a critique of the New York Public Library’s picture collection.
Although the work continued the artist’s drive to reveal to levers of power and to question representation, for me the limited visual content and the amount of reading of small text on the wall made these series less exciting viewing. I didn’t stop to view any accompanying publications, but wondered if this type of work might suit a book format better.