THAT'S ART, NOT JUST JOURNALISTIC PURSUIT
Ronald Jones, Scene of arrest, South Side, Chicago, Illinois; Taryn Simon, courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery
Enter the gallery with an empty mind. The less you know about this exhibition, the better. All you need is the artist's name, so that you can buy the ticket and walk to the right room. Leave all the reading for later, even the captions beside each picture. Just open your eyes. There is so much to be really looked at. And to be felt.
Taryn Simon presents 18 large-format pictures. They are all portraits. The first thing that will impress you is her palette: warm colours, extremely rich tones. Then, her composition. It is complex, anything but banal. It takes a while to really take an entire picture in. And the focus. Almost nothing in the pictures is out of it. Details are extremely sharp and end up playing an important role. Finally, there is the relation between subject and place. And that is where you feel. It all feels so awkward - but it's difficult to understand why: after all, they are ´only` pictures of ordinary American people in ordinary American places. It all looks so cinematic, familiar from so many American films. The awkwardness is not even in the poverty or isolation the pictures hint at. The strongly felt tension simply comes from the juxtaposition of Simon's subjects and the places they are portrayed in. It is somehow not natural, not smooth. The selected places are aggressive in their colours, present in their stillness. The subjects seem ill at ease; they all have strong gazes, some even look into the camera denouncing their uneasiness.
Timothy Durham, Skeet shooting, Tulsa Oklahoma; Taryn Simon, courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery
In a catalogue for the Museum Of Modern Art of New York, Peter Galassi once wrote of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, ´[his] photographs are suspended moments in unfolding narratives - only the conclusion to the story will explain the fragment that we see. Since diCorcia provides only fragments, we must complete the stories ourselves, investing his pictures with our own dramas and dreams.` The parallelism with diCorcia cannot be avoided. It is evident that Taryn Simon works with similar techniques and obtains similar results. That proves her artistic approach, her artistic abilities that - too often in this work - are confined in the shadow because of the almost unbearable weight of the stories she tells. Unlike diCorcia, she wants to tell us real stories. Like diCorcia, though, she delivers art.
By now, you have taken in the beauty of her work, how much she has played with your feelings, how much she managed to unsettle you. Now - and only now - you can read everything available about this outstanding series. It is called ´The Innocents`, they are 44 men and one woman. They are all individuals who served many years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Most of them are portrayed at the scene of the crime they had nothing to do with; some - not being able to stand it - preferred to be protrayed where they were arrested, misidentified, or given an alibi. All these individuals were freed thanks to The Innocence Project, a New York organisation established by two lawyers - Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck - employing DNA testing to get the wrongly convicted out of prison. The same organisation is now supporting the touring exhibition. Through pictures with a resolution giving the viewer more than the eye itself can see, Taryn Simon denounces the criminal justice system's frequent failure to recognise the limitations of photography as evidence. Taryn Simon denounces photography's ability to blur the border between truth and fiction.
Taryn Simon -The Innocents- from September 28, 2003, to January 18, 2004. Kunst-Werke Berlin e.V., Berlin (Germany)
Text: M. Cecchinato