Although the race for presidency has officially begun, many are still left wondering what makes America tick. Photographer Taryn Simon may just have the answer. Her current body of work is a collection spanning four years of photographs. An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar documents the cultural dogma that forms American identity.
The work came for Simon at “a critical time in American history when I think America was seeking secret sites outside of its borders whether it be weapons of mass destruction or to understand different cultures,” she says in a March 2007 interview with Charlie Rose. “I wanted to look inward during this important time in my history as an American, and find these secret sites within our own borders.”
Simon’s images are of sites that would generally be hidden from the view of average Americans. They are sites that feature “various subjects from the fields of science, politics,medicine, nature, and religion that remain inaccessible to us for natural,social, or political reasons,” according to the MMK Frankfurt.
All of her photographs, which are deeply calculated in their execution, capture hidden moments of American culture—moments of unseen truth that reinforce the great American mythology of our time. One might have a tangible understanding that nuclear waste must be stored somewhere within their borders, but until an image is presented in confirmation (as seen above), the idea remains remote. Simon takes these remote ideas, and presents them to the viewer both as an image and a story. Her work, formally rich, cannot help but recall Jeff Wall’s narrative light boxes.
Simon’s subjects include the Avian Quarantine Facilities in New York, a marijuana research grow lab in Mississippi, and a Cryopreservation Unit in Michigan. Each photograph is bathed in carefully chosen light, creating a sense of foreboding calm for the viewer—as though within each hidden fold of America, there might be an explosive power hidden just beneath the surface. She astutely put forth this body of work during a tumultuous time in American history. Now,as the US political arena is changing again, her work continues to remain insightful and relevant to all of those wishing to a gain a little extra insight into the minds of our American friends.
If you happen to be on this side of the Atlantic, you can check out her book, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. If you’re on the European continent, you can catch the end of her show at the MMK Frankfurt which runs until January 20.