Through the process of documenting America’s foundation through both mythology and quotidian objects, photographer Taryn Simon reflects on the heart of national identity by capturing that which is often obscured. Her recent series An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007), investigates objects and scenes that are often literally and metaphorically out of visual reach by the average citizen in the United States.
For this series, the artist photographed a wide range of subjects such as nuclear waste encapsulation and storage facilities to a recreational site for death row prisoners. An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, is the culmination of a four year project and demonstrates the lengths that the artist will go to photograph her desired subject.
Simon is currently presenting a new body of images titled Contraband at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. For this series, the artist lived in John F. Kennedy International Airport for five days and nights, extensively photographing seized goods from passengers entering the United States. A vast array of items such as counterfeit clothing and electronics, drugs, endangered animals, gold dust, Cuban Cigars, and steroids were commandeered by airport security and then photographed by the artist.
The series includes 1075 photographs of over 1000 items. Photographed and cataloged in a fully objective dead pan aesthetic, similar to that which was pioneered by German photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher, these images are removed from all context and are imaged on a stark white background. By capturing such a vast amount of diverse material in a very short period of time, Simon is able to better understand what drives the underground economy in the United States and what goods Americans desire to own, but which are legally out of grasp.
Contraband was also produced in book form and will be exhibited this year at Lever House in New York and Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels. Simon is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow.