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Documentary photography at the Jeu de Paume in Paris

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Documentary photography at the Jeu de Paume in Paris

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The Jeu de Paume in Paris presents the first anthological exhibition in France of American photographer Taryn Simon’s work.

She uses both pictures and text to try to reach a deeper meaning of photography. Simon presents a series of reflections about the role of images in our society – power, control, the separation between institutions and the public are just some of the topics she explores.

In her first work, ‘The Innocents’ in 2003, she took a series of portraits of people wrongfully convicted, imprisoned and subsequently freed from death row. In their cases photography offered the criminal justice system a tool that transformed innocent citizens into criminals by erroneous eyewitness identification.

Taryn Simon is warning us: photography is ambivalent and therefore less faithful to reality than we think. But at the same time images have power, more power than words:

“I think I use photography and text to highlight the ever-changing space where knowledge is created. So I try to create these two poles: one photographic, one textual, and the viewer moves between these two poles and is constantly making new judgements, new interpretations, new assumptions about the narratives that are the subject of the work.”

From the book ‘An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar’, to the 2012 work ‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters’, Taryn Simon acts as a researcher or an historiographer: she looks for connections, data and facts and she tries to point out the red line that joins up all the elements..

‘A Living Man Declared Dead’ is about the Srebrenica massacre in the Balkans.

“In the piece I documented a blood-line in Bosnia that had been interrupted by a genocidal act, the Srebrenica massacre. So for example this man is the father of her; she had four children, all of whom were killed in the Srebrenica massacre. This is his second child, and her children and so on”.

The exploration of inaccessible places like the core of a contaminated nuclear site in the US, a catalogue of over a thousand objects seized by customs at JFK Airport; a list of internet search results thrown up for a particular country – the common denominator in Simon’s work is the idea of archive.

“Archives… To me the most beautiful part of an archive is that is a huge collection of data and information and images and facts. And the reason it exists is because it’s impossible to provide a summary. And therefore it’s in all that collected material and the gaps between all of it that something is said”.

Simon is a photographer capable of blurring the line between social documentary, contemporary art, science and journalism. She says as long as she can explore the role of images in creating control, power, misunderstanding and knowledge in our society, she’ll go on with her work, even if the art has to take a back seat.

The exhibition at Jeu de Paume will run until May 17.

WEB BONUS: Taryn Simon


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