Ideas and Taryn Simon

For my final piece I want to create a video of my fathers’ final walk before committing suicide supplementing this with a book detailing and informing the audience of my fathers’ mental and physical decline, from birth to death. I will include family photographs, statements, letters from psychiatrists, my fathers’ belongings, information/quotes from those who knew him, song lyrics, his favourite lines in books, inform people of the effects of certain drugs ad meanings of my fathers’ conditions and notes taken from his notebook. However, how I print the book and bind it is still yet to be decided.

One thing I am sure of is that I want to present the objects in an evidential, matter of fact way, similarly to the extensive works by Sophie Calle. I will supplement the images with text to inform the audience of the stories behind the images and objects, in order for them to gage a better understanding of my father and behaviour. The documents that I’ve decided to include within the final project are those which informed me the most about my father and his final action. I wanted to photograph the objects in white surroundings or either scan them, to create a bleak, honest portrayal, without distracting the viewer.

For inspiration I wanted to find more photographers that approach events and objects in an evidential way and look at how they present them. I looked at American photographer Taryn Simon’s various projects and a recurring theme is that of duteous precision. Simon is undoubtedly a serious and committed artist whose work is unapologetically cerebral. She is meticulous, perhaps even obsessive, in her preparation and research. The objects are displayed simply, on plain background, something I want to emulate. Simon also continually probes the relationship between image and text, access to information, and engagement with history. Most of her compositions are accompanied by text as a key to visual subject and situation. The combination of image and word underscores Simon’s role as both witness and informant. I think it’s effective when the photographer provides information about an image, as does Sophie Calle in her works, as it helps the reader have a more informed reading into the image, these I will take into consideration when it comes to my final book.

Bird corpse, labeled as home décor, Indonesia to Miami, Florida (prohibited)

Cigarettes, eight cartons, Marlboro (passenger declined to pay tax) (abandoned)

I was particularly inspired by ‘Contraband’, which does exactly what it says on the tin a series of images of goods which have been imported or exported illegally:

“The following 1,075 photographs were taken at both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York. From November 16, 2009 through November 20, 2009, Taryn Simon remained on site at JFK and continuously photographed items detained or seized from passengers and express mail entering the United States from abroad.”

The images are raw and simple, all photographed from an objective viewpoint surrounded by a white background. I think photographing the objects in front of a white background is highly successful in forcing the human eye to focus on the object. Simon accompanies the images with short and precise captions, detailing what the objects are, where they are from and why they are illegal.

I was also inspired by a few images from Simon’s series ‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII’ which was produced over a four-year period (2008-11), during which the artist, travelled around the world researching and recording bloodlines and their related stories. The subjects Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate.

‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII’

‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII’

A few pieces from this series stuck out for me. In the images of the maps and documents (shown above), the backgrounds aren’t entirely white, which I feel adds something rather then takes away from the evidential quality her images evoke. After viewing these I thought it would maybe work better if I scanned the objects as that would create grey shadows, as it would prohibit me from closing the lid entirely. Another set of images I find intriguing are the empty portraits (shown above). These represent living members of a bloodline who could not be photographed. The reasons for these absences are included in the text panels and include imprisonment, military service, dengue fever and women not granted permission to be photographed for religious and social reasons. I thought I could maybe emulate this idea in my own project, of people who I know were involved with my father but I have never seen.  For example, the two drug dealers who met my father in the flat at Givens House, I’ve never seen them but I know of them. Or I could use blank pages of people who do not want to be seen, just heard and so accompany a blank page with a quote from the person. Or maybe use blank pages to show slots in my father’s life which still remain a mystery to me.

Overall, I found Taryn Simon’s works highly influential and have encouraged me to explore different ways of presented my images and documents when creating my book.

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