How photography reveals and obscures the truth

Taryn Simon likes to photograph things most people never get to see. Things like the piles of food seized at customs, glowing capsules of nuclear waste, or a copy of Playboy Magazine – in braille.

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Playboy, Braille Edition

Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

New York, New York

Simon says the biggest obstacle to doing her work is gaining access, something she was denied by – of all places – Disneyland.

Photography threatens fantasy. They [Disneyland] didn’t want to let my camera in because it confronts constructed realities, myths and beliefs, and provides what appears to be evidence of a truth. But there are multiple truths attached to every image.

Simon often uses her camera to battle the “untruths” told by other pictures. An entire series of her work consists of portraits of men convicted and sentenced for crimes they didn’t commit. In most instances, the men were identified by witnesses in photo albums, often after they’d been passed over in a face-to-face line-up. Often times witnesses later admitted that they’d seen so many faces that they could no longer properly identify who they remembered from the crime scene.

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CALVIN WASHINGTON

C&E Motel, Room No. 24, Waco, Texas

Where an informant claimed to have heard Washington confess

Wrongfully accused- Served 13 years of a Life sentence for Murder

2002

Many of these wrongly convicted men ended up serving a decade or more in prison before a DNA test led to their acquittals. Simon photographs her subjects either at the location of their alibi, at the scene of their arrest, or sometimes at the scene of the crime (in some cases a place the subject has never seen).

Looking at Taryn Simon’s work, and hearing her talk about the process involved (she spends most of her time writing letters asking for permission to visit places) reminded me of the work of local photographer Paul Shambroom. Shambroom also likes to depict places most people don’t ever get to see, but in his case his work has revolved around American military might and national security.

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