Taryn Simon: "We are ghosts of the past and future"

One of the biggest names in art photography opens up on her childhood and the processes that go into her work
Taryn Simon, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII (detail) (2011). Pigmented inkjet prints, 84 x 241 7/8" (213.4 x 614.4 cm). Courtesy the artist. © Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII (detail) (2011). Pigmented inkjet prints, 84 x 241 7/8" (213.4 x 614.4 cm). Courtesy the artist. © Taryn Simon


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Like pretty much the rest of the art world, we at phaidon.com leap on anything with Taryn Simon’s name on it so we were especially pleased to come across what we think is the most revealing interview with her we’ve seen to date.

Simon is, of course, the uber-connected photographer whose work features in the collections of MoMA, Tate and the Pompidou to name but a few and who’s represented by Larry Gagosian, married to Jake Paltrow and counts Steven Speilberg among the guests who turn up to her openings. All of which is the kind of thing that gets her noticed on a bigger stage and all of which only threatens to overshadow quite what it is that’s so outstanding about her work. 

Taryn Simon

Taryn Simon, A living man declared dead and other chapters excerpt

Her pieces are complex, ambitious and often painstakingly laborious in their execution, yet direct, engaging and emotional in their effect. She creates art that has a strong connection to the real world. Highly conceptual and creative, it blurs the boundaries between reportage, conceptualism and portraiture.

The MoMA video relates to the project, A Living Man is Declared Dead and Other Chapters, which was put together over four years (only two months of which were actually spent taking photographs) and saw Simon grappling with the idea of blood and then trying to document bloodlines, which proved fertile. The show was at the Tate last year though by the time a lot of people had cottoned on to the fact it was already over. It just opened at MoMA in New York and runs right through to September. If you’re going to be in the city this summer you really shouldn’t miss it. 

Taryn Simon

Taryn Simon, A living man declared dead and other chapters excerpt

At Srebrenica Simon photographed the fully assembled mortal remains of a young son killed in the massacre; in Australia she traced the effects of a virus injected into the rabbit population, and in India documented the descendants of a man who died, leaving his four children to inherit his land and their resulting squabbles and attempts to have each other listed as dead so that that they might inherit a larger chunk of their father’s wealth. Notions around power, territory, religion and family collide with internal forces of physical and psychological inheritance. As Simon says in the video above: “We are all the living dead in many ways - ghosts of the past and future.” 

It’s truly fascinating stuff and, as is often the case, it’s real power is to be found in the spaces between each story and image. Do yourself a favour: grab a coffee, and take ten minutes out of your schedule to watch the video. A Living Man is Declared Dead and Other Chapters is on show at MoMA until September.


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