Taryn Simon – which genre?

Taryn Simon is introduced in the BoW course materials. I followed a trail and stopped at a TED Talk of Simon discussing and showing her work . Her work is investigative – she explores hidden sites and deception through images. She says that her interest is in ‘the space between image and text’. And has a compelling hook to explain that, ‘at best image floats away into abstract fantasy, but text acts as a cruel anchor that nails it to the ground’. This creates a brutal image, but her work The Innocents speaks to what can happen if the limitations of images are not recognised. It deals with wrongful convictions based on the misuse and careless use of photographic evidence. Her closing remark is, ‘distortion is a constant and our eyes are easily deceived’.

How might this type of work (The Innocents) be situated in within the genres proposed for this course? It features tableau but its main thrust seems to be conceptual – how images mislead. So the categorisation doesn’t work that well in this case. If I call it portraiture overlaid by the conceptual (traditional genre, with meta-genre) it is clearer. If I use Terry Barrett’s categories and call it ‘ethically evaluative’ it goes direct to the function of the photos in this case. This serves as an example of the shortcomings of labelling, using work that highlights the limitations of photography.

I found Simon’s work fascinating and an example of how text is essential to the understanding of some work. Without context to explain, the concept would have been missed. While I enjoyed the work, it is not an approach that appeals to me – as she says herself, she spends very little time making photographs and most of her time trying to get access to people and places.

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