With a large-format camera and a knack for talking her way into forbidden zones, Taryn Simon photographs portions of the American infrastructure inaccessible to its inhabitants.

Why you should listen

In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Taryn Simon gains entrance to places as diverse as a white tiger breeding facility, the JFK Airport quarantine area, a nuclear waste treatment site and virus-research labs. In doing so, she brings to light that which is integral to America's foundation, mythology and daily functioning, but remains inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. In her earlier book, The Innocents, Simon documents cases of wrongful conviction in the US, calling into question photography's function as a credibly witness and arbiter of justice. 

In A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII, Simon captures the essence of vast, generation-spanning stories through photography, text and graphic design. To create this ambitious project, she spent four years traveling the world, researching and recording bloodlines. The subjects that Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. In her second TED Talk, Simon delves into several of these "chapters", investigating the nature of genealogy and the ways in which our lives are shaped by the collision of external forces, including territory, power, circumstance and religion, with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance.

After premiering at the Tate Modern in London and at Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie, Simon's  A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII exhibited at MoMA in New York, followed by the Ullens Center in Beijing, where the work was subject to censorship despite one of its chapters having originally been developed by the artist in collaboration with China's Office of Foreign Propaganda. 


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What others say

“"In a historical period in which many people are making such great efforts to conceal the truth from the mass of the people, an artist like Taryn Simon is an invaluable counter-force. Democracy needs visibility, accountability, light...Somehow, Simon has persuaded a good few denizens of hidden world not to scurry for shelter when the light is switched on, as cockroaches and vampires do, but to pose proudly for her invading lens..." — Salman Rushdie. "Simon's images and lists embrace both order and disorder, and open up a third space within the cracks of these forms of control: a space of the surreptitious, the forgotten, the bizarre and the banal, exposed to the cold light of the camera..." — Hans Ulrich Obrist.” —

Taryn Simon’s TED talks

More news and ideas from Taryn Simon

Photographing secret sites: Taryn Simon on TED.com

September 24, 2009

Taryn Simon exhibits her startling take on photography — to reveal worlds and people we would never see otherwise. She shares two projects: one documents otherworldly locations typically kept secret from the public, the other involves haunting portraits of men convicted for crimes they did not commit. (Recorded at TEDGlobal 2009, July 2009, in Oxford, […]

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Taryn Simon at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 8

July 23, 2009

Taryn Simon at TEDGlobal 2009, Session 8: July 23, 2009, in Oxford, UK. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson Taryn Simon is a photographer whose subjects are often as fascinating as her images. This morning, she launches into a series of photographs from her amazing collection An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. She […]

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Twitter Snapshot: Taryn Simon shows the hidden and unfamiliar

July 23, 2009

Photographer Taryn Simon goes to places few people ever get to see. She’s photographed everything from a white tiger breeding facility to abortion clinics. Her shocking talk astounded the crowd on Twitter: Taryn Simon’s talk is dense with details on the background of her photos. The context is the story. Eclectic. — bwdumars Incestuous white […]

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