Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XVII, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; 5. (Name withheld), 16 Mar. 1993. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 18. (Name withheld), 25 Nov. 1993. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 19. (Name withheld), 17 Jan. 1994. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XV, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; b. Gift bag from the State Council Information Office (SCIO). Product of the SCIO, Beijing; a. China Central Television Tower, selected by the State Council Information Office to be photographed for this work. Beijing; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XI, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; c. Official Adolf Hitler postage stamp and Hans Frank imitation stamp. The Hitler stamp was printed in 1941 for the second anniversary of the founding of the Generalgouvernement and was in circulation until the end of the Second World War. A replica of the Hitler stamp, with Frank’s image, was produced by British intelligence and released in Poland to provoke friction between Frank and Hitler. Henry Gitner Philatelists, Inc., New York; e. Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, taken by German troops from the Czartoryski collection during the Second World War. It hung in the Wawel apartment of Hans Frank and was later brought to his family home, Schoberhof. After Frank’s arrest, the painting was returned to the Czartoryski Museum, where it now hangs across from the empty frame for Raphael’s missing Portrait of a Youth. Czartoryski Museum, Krakow.
f. Rembrandt’s Landscape with the Good Samaritan, taken by German troops from the Czartoryski collection during the Second World War. One of only eight oil landscapes painted by the artist, it was returned to the Czartoryski Museum upon Frank’s arrest. Czartoryski Museum, Krakow; 7. Frank, Norman, 06 Mar. 1928. Bavarian television facilities director (retired). Schliersee, Germany; 8. MJK, 24 May 1958. (Information withheld). [Sent clothing as representation]
; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter I, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; 9. Yadav, Babloo, ~11/12 (birth date unknown). Student. Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India; 10. Yadav, Mukesh, ~10/11 (birth date unknown). Student. Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India; d. Corpse of a person with leprosy floating in the Ganges River. The dead are cremated on the banks of the river or tied to heavy stones and sunk in the water. Dhanaiy Yadav, Shivdutt Yadav’s father, was cremated along the banks and his ashes were scattered in the river. Ganges River, Varanasi; b. Letter to the chief judicial magistrate of Azamgarh demanding official recognition that Shivdutt, Chandrabhan, Phoolchand, and Ram Surat Yadav are living and maintain legal title to their land. The letter also requests that legal action be taken against all officers and family members who filed false information. Family file, Azamgarh; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter II, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; 1. Hacohen, Shulamite, 12 Jan. 1939. High school teacher/librarian. Kfar Saba, Israel; a. Advertisement for “The Pyramid of the Jewish National Home.” Central Zionist Archives, Jerusale; c. Independence Hall, the site of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. Independence Hall, Tel Aviv; h. Palestine Police Curfew Pass issued to Arthur Ruppin, 1936. Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter II, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; d. Report for a possible Jewish settlement in British East Africa for the Zionist Organization, 1905. Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem; e. Population density map of the Uganda Protectorate for the Zionist Commission, 1902. Records show that Arthur Ruppin found Uganda’s climate unsuitable for Jewish settlement. Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem; f. Map of the Guas Ngishu Plateau in British East Africa for the Zionist Commission, 1905. Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

 

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
212-708-9400
New York
The Robert and Joyce Menschel Gallery, third floor
Taryn Simon:
A Living Man Declared Dead
and Other Chapters

May 2-September 3, 2012.

The Museum of Modern Art presents the first U.S. exhibition of Taryn Simon’s (American, b. 1975) photographic project A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters. This powerful, elaborately constructed photographic work was produced over a four-year period (2008-11), during which the artist travelled around the world researching and documenting the living ascendants and descendants of a single individual, or "bloodlines," and their related stories. In each of the "chapters" that make up the work, the external forces of territory, power, circumstance, or religion collide with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance.

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. The exhibition is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

A Living Man Declared Dead is divided into 18 chapters, nine of which are featured at MoMA. Each chapter comprises three segments.

The first segment is a large portrait series systematically presenting individuals directly related by blood. The sequence of portraits is structured to include the living ascendants and descendants of a single individual. Simon also shows empty portraits, representing living members of a bloodline who could not be photographed.

The portraits are followed by a text panel, in which the artist constructs narratives and collects details about the distinct bloodlines. She also notes the reasons for the absences in the portrait panel, which include imprisonment, military service, dengue fever, and women not being granted permission to be photographed. The last segment is Simon’s "footnote" panel, comprising images that expand and locate the stories in each of Simon’s chapters.

Ms. Marcoci says, "Simon’s major project locates photography’s capacity to at once probe complex narratives in contemporary societies and to organize the material in classification processes characteristic of an archive, a system that connects identity, genealogy, history, and memory."

Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate. In contrast to the methodical ordering of a bloodline, the central elements of the stories — violence, resilience, corruption, and survival — disorient the highly structured appearance of the work.

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters highlights the space between text and image, absence and presence, and order and anarchy.

Taryn Simon was born in 1975 in New York, where she lives and works. Her previous work includes Contraband (2010), an archive of images of items that were detained or seized from passengers and mail entering the United States from abroad; An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007), which reveals objects, sites, and spaces that are integral to America’s foundation, mythology, or daily functioning but remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience; and The Innocents (2003), which documents cases of wrongful conviction in the United States, calling into question photography’s function as a credible witness and arbiter of justice.

Simon's work has been the subject of monographic exhibitions at Tate Modern, London; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; and MoMA PS1, New York. A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters was shown in its entirety at Tate Modern, London (May 25, 2011-January 2, 2012), and Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (September 21, 2011-January 1, 2012).

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XI, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; 15. (Information withheld); © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XV, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; 1. Su, Qijian, 19 Nov. 1926. Administrator (retired), Ministry of Railways. Beijing, China; 17. Zhang, Jing, 27 July 1975. Homemaker. Qingdao, China; 18. Ma, Yucheng, 06 Sept. 2009. Qingdao, China; 19. Zhang, Qun, 27 Mar. 1979. Advertising designer, Beijing Gotwin Culture Communicate Limit Company. Beijing, China; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XVII, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; a. History classroom at the orphanage with framed inscription above the blackboard. Translated from Ukrainian, it reads: “Those who do not know their past are not worthy of their future…” Undisclosed location, Ukraine.
d. Wooden figure of a stork delivering a child, made by one of the children at the orphanage. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; b. Boys’ bedroom at the orphanage. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; c. Girls’ bedroom at the orphanage. Undisclosed location, Ukraine;
© 2012 Taryn SimonTaryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Excerpt from Chapter XVII, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII; 66. (Name withheld), ~13 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 67. (Name withheld), ~13 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 68. (Name withheld), 06 Jan. 1997. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 69. (Name withheld), 09 Jan. 1997. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 70. (Name withheld), 11 Jan. 1997. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 71. (Name withheld), 11 Jan. 1997. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 90. (Name withheld), 17 June 1998. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 91. (Name withheld), 04 Sept. 1998. Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 92. (Name withheld), ~11 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 93. (Name withheld), ~11 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 94. (Name withheld), ~11 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 95. (Name withheld), ~11 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 114. (Name withheld), ~9 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 115. (Name withheld), ~9 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 116. (Name withheld), ~8 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 117. (Name withheld), ~8 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 118. (Name withheld), ~7 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; 119. (Name withheld), ~6 (birth date unknown). Student. Undisclosed location, Ukraine; © 2012 Taryn Simon, Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.

Taryn Simon, Hymenoplasty , Cosmetic Surgery, P.A. , Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The patient in this photograph is 21-year-old woman of Palestinian descent, living in the United States. In order to adhere to cultural and familial expectations regarding her virginity and marriage, she underwent hymenoplasty. Without it she feared she would be rejected by her future husband and bring shame upon her family. She flew in secret to Florida where the operation was performed by Dr. Bernard Stern, a plastic surgeon she located on the internet. The purpose of hymenoplasty is to reconstruct a ruptured hymen, © Taryn Simon

Defining Our Culture by the Hidden Detail of Our Social Curiosities

Taryn Simon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, New York. African cane rats infested with maggots, African yams (dioscorea), Andean potatoes, Bangladeshi cucurbit plants, bush meat, cherimoya fruit, curry leaves (murraya), dried orange peels, fresh eggs, giant African snail, impala skull cap, jackfruit seeds, June plum, kola nuts, mango, okra, passion fruit, pig nose, pig mouths, pork, raw poultry (chicken), South American pig head, South American tree tomatoes, South Asian lime infected with citrus canker, sugar cane (poaceae), uncooked meats, unidentified sub tropical plant in soil. All items in the photograph were seized from the baggage of passengers arriving in the U.S. at JFK Terminal 4 from abroad over a 48-hour period. All seized items are identified, dissected, and then either ground up or incinerated. JFK processes more international passengers than any other airport in the United States.

Taryn Simon, Research Marijuana Crop Grow Room, National Center for Natural Products Research Oxford, Mississippi. The National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) is the only facility in the United States which is federally licensed to cultivate cannabis for scientific research. In addition to cultivating cannabis, NCNPR is responsible for analyzing seized marijuana for potency trends, herbicide residuals (paraquat) and fingerprint identification. NCNPR is licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and also researches and develops chemicals derived from plants, marine organisms, and other natural products. While 11 states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision allows for the arrest of any individual caught using it for this purpose. Nearly half of the annual arrests for drug violations involve marijuana possession or
trafficking.

Taryn Simon, White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation, Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In the United States, all living white tigers are the result of selective inbreeding to artificially create the genetic conditions that lead to white fur, ice-blue eyes and a pink nose. Kenny was born to a breeder in Bentonville, Arkansas on February 3, 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded and has significant physical limitations. Due to his deep-set nose, he has difficulty breathing and closing his jaw, his teeth are severely malformed and he limps from abnormal bone structure in his forearms. The three other tigers in Kenny’s litter are not considered to be quality white tigers as they are yellow coated, cross-eyed, and knock-kneed.

Taryn Simon, Playboy, Braille Edition, Playboy Enterprises, Inc., New York, New York, The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the U.S. Library of Congress, provides a free national library program of Braille and recorded materials for blind and physically handicapped persons. Magazines included in the NLS’s programs are selected on the basis of demonstrated reader interest. This includes the publishing and distribution of a Braille edition of Playboy. Approximately 10 million American adults read Playboy every month, with 3 million obtaining it through paid circulation. It has included articles by writers such as Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and Kurt Vonnegut and conducted interviews with Salvador Dali, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Malcolm X.

 

Museum für Moderne Kunst
Domstrasse 10
+ 49 69 212 30447
Frankfurt
Taryn Simon,
An American Index
of the Hidden and Unfamiliar

September 29, 2007-
January 20, 2008

Taryn Simon first took the limelight with her exhibition of photographs titled The Innocents at New York’s PS 1 Contemporary Art Center. Documenting cases of wrongful conviction in the United States, the work equally investigated photography’s role in that process. Taryn Simon is a Guggenheim Fellow; her photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and form part of international collections.

Taryn Simon presents a new series of photographs, exhibited in its entirety for the first time. In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, the artist assumes the dual role of shrewd informant and collector of curiosities, compiling an inventory of what is hidden and out-of-view within the borders of the United States.

She examines a culture, carefully documenting diverse subjects from the realms of science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security, and religion. Transforming the unknown into a seductive and intelligible form, Simon confronts the divide between those with and without the privilege of access.

Her ethereal and foreboding compositions, shot with a large-format view camera as conditions allowed, vary as much as her subject matter: it ranges from radioactive capsules at a nuclear waste storage site and the recreational facility of a high security prison to a black bear in hibernation. Offering visions of the unseen, the photographs of An American Index capture the strange magic at the foundation of a national identity.

Taryn Simon was born in New York in 1975. She is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Her highly acclaimed and influential work, The Innocents, documents cases of wrongful conviction in the United States and investigates photography’s role in that process.

Simon’s photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally, including: High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Haus Der Kunst, Munich; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; and Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. Permanent collections include: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Her photography and writing have been featured in numerous publications and broadcasts including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, CNN, BBC, Frontline, and NPR. Simon has been a visiting artist at institutions including: Yale University, Bard College, Columbia University, School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design She is represented by Gagosian Gallery. Her current body of work is titled An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. It will be published by Steidl and exhibited at The Whitney Museum of American Art, March-June, 2006 and the Museum fur Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt/Main, November 2007-February 2008.

In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Taryn Simon documents spaces that are integral to America’s foundation, mythology and daily functioning, but remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. She has photographed rarely seen sites from domains including: science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security and religion. This index examines subjects that, while provocative or controversial, are currently legal. The work responds to a desire to discover unknown territories, to see everything.

Simon makes use of the annotated-photograph’s capacity to engage and inform the public. Transforming that which is off-limits or under-the-radar into a visible and intelligible form, she confronts the divide between the privileged access of the few and the limited access of the public. Photographed with a large format view camera (except when prohibited), Simon’s 70 color plates form a seductive collection that reflects and reveals a national identity.

Salman Rushdie wrote a foreword to accompany An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. Ronald Dworkin contributed a commentary. Curators Elisabeth Sussman and Tina Kukielski of The Whitney Museum of American Art contributed an introduction.

Simon’s earliest body of work and first book, produced with the support of a photography grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, is titled The Innocents. The Innocents documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit. At issue is the question of photography's function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice.

The primary cause of wrongful conviction is mistaken identification. A victim or eyewitness identifies a suspected perpetrator through law enforcement's use of photographs and lineups. This procedure relies on the assumption of precise visual memory. But, through exposure to composite sketches, mugshots, Polaroids, and lineups, eyewitness memory can change. In the history of these cases, photography offered the criminal justice system a tool that transformed innocent citizens into criminals. Photographs assisted officers in obtaining eyewitness identifications and aided prosecutors in securing convictions.

Simon photographed these men at sites that had particular significance to their illegitimate conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the scene of the crime or the scene of the alibi. All of these locations hold contradictory meanings for the subjects. The scene of arrest marks the starting point of a reality based in fiction. The scene of the crime is at once arbitrary and crucial: this place, to which they have never been, changed their lives forever. In these photographs Simon confronts photography's ability to blur truth and fiction-an ambiguity that can have severe, even lethal consequences.

Taryn Simon is also known for her photographs documenting international regions in turmoil, presented in a manner that is typically reserved for less controversial subjects. Her formal choices — the use of a large format camera, dramatic lighting, and the calculated relationship between the subject and location — challenge her audience to confront contemporary social and political issues.

Taryn Simon, Avian Quarantine Facility, The New York Animal Import Center, Newburgh, New York, European Finches seized upon illegal importation into the U.S. and African Gray Parrots in quarantine.All imported birds that are not of U.S. or Canadian origin must undergo a 30 day quarantine in a U.S. Department of Agriculture animal import quarantine facility. The quarantine is mandatory and at the owner's expense. Birds are immediately placed in incubators called isolettes that control the spread of disease and prevent cross-contamination by strategically placed High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters.Before each quarantined bird is cleared for release, it is tested for Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease.

Taryn Simon, Cryopreservation, Cryonics Institute, Clinton Township, Michigan, This cryopreservation unit holds the bodies of Rhea and Elaine Ettinger, the mother and first wife of cryonics pioneer, Robert Ettinger. Robert, author of “he Prospect of Immortality and Man into Superman is still alive. The Cryonics Institute offers cryostasis (freezing) services for individuals and pets upon death. Cryostasis is practiced with the hope that lives will ultimately be extended through future developments in science, technology, and medicine. When, and if, these developments occur, © Taryn Simon.

Taryn Simon, Charles Irvin Fain, Scene of the crime, the Snake River, Melba, Idaho (detail), 2002. Fain served 18 years of a death sentence for murder, rape and kidnapping.

Wrongfully Convicted. Revisiting Taryn Simon: The Innocents

Taryn Simon, Calvin Washington, C&E Motel, Room No. 24, Waco, Texas, 2002. This is where an informant claimed to have heard Washington confess. He was wrongfully accused and served 13 years of a life sentence for murder.

Taryn Simon, Larry Mayes, Scene of arrest, The Royal Inn, Gary, Indiana, Police found Mayes hiding beneath a mattress in this room, Served 18.5 years of an 80-year sentence for Rape, Robbery and Unlawful Deviate Conduct, 2002.

Ron Williamson. Baseball field, Norman, Oklahoma. Williamson had been drafted by the Oakland Athletics before being sentenced to death. Served 11 years of a death sentence for first degree murder.Ron Williamson. Baseball field, Norman, Oklahoma. Williamson had been drafted by the Oakland Athletics before being sentenced to death. Served 11 years of a death sentence for first degree murder.

 

Museum of Contemporary Photography
Columbia College Chicago
600 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago
312-663-5554
Taryn Simon: The Innocents
August 2-October 1, 2005

I was asked to come down and look at the photo array of different men. I picked Ron’s photo because in my mind it most closely resembled the man who attacked me. But really what happened was that, because I had made a composite sketch, he actually most closely resembled my sketch as opposed to the actual attacker. By the time we went to do a physical lineup, they asked if I could physically identify the person. I picked out Ronald because, subconsciously, in my mind, he resembled the photo, which resembled the composite, which resembled the attacker. All the images became enmeshed to one image that became Ron, and Ron became my attacker.

— Jennifer Thompson on the process of identifying the man who raped her.

During the summer of 2000, I worked for The New York Times Magazine photographing men and women who were wrongfully convicted, imprisoned, and subsequently freed from death row. After this assignment, I began to investigate photography’s role in the criminal justice system. I traveled across the United States photographing and interviewing men and women convicted of crimes they did not commit. In these cases, photography offered the criminal justice system a tool that transformed innocent citizens into criminals, assisted officers in obtaining erroneous eyewitness identifications, and aided prosecutors in securing convictions. The criminal justice system had failed to recognize the limitations of relying on photographic images.

For the men and women in these photographs, the primary cause of wrongful conviction was mistaken identification. A victim or eyewitness identifies a suspected perpetrator through law enforcement’s use of photographs and lineups. These identifications rely on the assumption of precise visual memory. But through exposure to composite sketches, mugshots, Polaroids, and lineups, eyewitness memory can change. Police officers and prosecutors influence memory — both unintentionally and intentionally — through the ways in which they conduct the identification process. They can shape, and even generate, what comes to be known as eyewitness testimony.

The high stakes of the criminal justice system underscore the importance of a photographic image’s history and context.

The photographs rely upon supporting materials — captions, case profiles and interviews — in an effort to construct a more adequate account of these cases. This project stresses the cost of ignoring the limitations of photography and minimizing the context in which photographic images are presented. Nowhere are the material effects of ignoring a photograph’s context as profound as in the misidentification that leads to the imprisonment or execution of an innocent person.

I photographed each innocent person at a site that came to assume particular significance following his wrongful conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the alibi location, or the scene of the crime. In the history of these legal cases, these locations have been assigned contradictory meanings. The scene of arrest marks the starting point of a reality that is based in fiction. The scene of the crime, for the wrongfully convicted, is at once arbitrary and crucial; a place that changed their lives forever, but to which they had never been. Photographing the wrongfully convicted in these environments brings to the surface the attenuated relationship between truth and fiction, and efficiency and injustice.

The wrongfully convicted in these photographs were exonerated through the use of DNA evidence. Only in recent years have eyewitness identification and testimony been forced to meet the test of DNA corroboration. Because of its accuracy, DNA allows a level of comfort that other forms of evidence do not offer. In the exoneration process, DNA evidence pressures the justice system and the public to concede that a convicted person is indeed innocent. In our reliance upon these new technologies, we marginalize the majority of the wrongfully convicted, for whom there is no DNA evidence, or those for whom the cost of DNA testing is prohibitive. Even in cases in which it was collected, DNA evidence must be handled and stored and is therefore prey to human error and corruption. Evidence does not exist in a closed system. Like photography, it cannot exist apart from its context, or outside of the modes by which it circulates.

Photography’s ability to blur truth and fiction is one of its most compelling qualities. But when misused as part of a prosecutor’s arsenal, this ambiguity can have severe, even lethal consequences. Photographs in the criminal justice system, and elsewhere, can turn fiction into fact. As I got to know the men and women that I photographed, I saw that photography’s ambiguity, beautiful in one context, can be devastating in another.

— Taryn Simon

The Innocence Movement and the Death Penalty in the United States

The Innocence Movement
In 1989, Gary Dotson, who had been convicted of rape in Chicago and served eight years in prison, became the first prisoner in the United States whose conviction was overturned based on DNA evidence.

In the ensuing years, post-conviction DNA testing has been used extensively to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and has provided conclusive proof that the American criminal justice system sometimes fails and mistakenly convicts innocent people. In states that employ capital punishment, wrongful convictions can have grave consequences.

While only approximately 20% of all serious criminal cases involve biological evidence that could be used to convict or exclude a suspect, post conviction DNA testing has roused political action, and has raised awareness in factors such as mistaken eyewitness identification, racial bias, incompetent legal counsel and police and prosecutorial misconduct, all of which can lead to wrongful convictions.

Many of the exonerees featured in Taryn Simon’s series The Innocents were freed with legal help from the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York.

Inspired by the successes of this project and others including Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, over the past decade over thirty “innocence projects” have sprung up around the nation. Most of these organizations are based on the same basic model. They are not-for-profit institutions that use volunteers, usually law and journalism students, who work under the supervision of professionals to review cases of people who claim to have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. They further provide legal representation to the indigent and advocate for changes in the criminal justice system. While most innocence projects are unable to meet the demand for their services and have a large backload of cases, the innocence movement seems to be having an effect. Public opinion in support of the death penalty has reached a twenty-year low and since 2000 many states have passed legislation banning or strictly limiting the use of the death penalty.

 

The Death Penalty in Illinois: Recent Developments
Between 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated in the US after a five-year moratorium, and 2000, Illinois executed twelve Death Row inmates. During that same period, the state also freed thirteen Death Row inmates who were ultimately found innocent of the crimes for which they had been convicted. In 1998, the Northwestern University School of Law hosted a national conference on wrongful convictions that brought together twenty-eight former prisoners from across the US — some who had come within hours of execution — who had been sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. The conference was the brainchild of Northwestern Law Professor Lawrence C. Marshall, who had recently won three separate high-profile cases proving the innocence of Rolando Cruz, Gary Gauger and Willie Rainge, each of whom had been wrongly convicted of murder. The national media extensively covered the conference, raising public awareness of the innocence issue, especially in death penalty cases. Following the conference, in 1999, Northwestern founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions to identify and rectify wrongful convictions and other serious miscarriages of justice.

That same year, the Chicago Tribune published several articles exposing serious problems in the criminal justice system that affected scores of Illinois capital cases. Aware of the mounting evidence, in 2000 Illinois Governor George Ryan, who had been a staunch supporter of capital punishment, suspended the use of the death penalty until he said that he could be certain that no innocent person would face execution in Illinois. Illinois became the first state with a moratorium on state executions and a focus of international attention on the issue of death penalty reform. In 2003 Ryan commuted the sentences of all of Illinois’ 156 death row inmates to life in prison and issued a comprehensive list of suggested reforms. He stated that, “Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error: error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die...” He further claimed that the innocence issue “is shaping up to be one of the great civil rights struggles of our time.” Ryan was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in death penalty reform.

Taryn Simon, Hector Gonzalez, at home, Brooklyn, New York, week of his homecoming (detail), 2002. Gonzalez served 6.5 years of a 15-to-life sentence for murder.

Taryn Simon, Tim Durham Skeet shooting, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 11 alibi witnesses placed Durham at a skeet-shooting competition at the time of the crime, Served 3.5 years of a 3,220 year sentence for Rape and Robbery, 2002, Chromogenic print, 121.9 x 152.4 cm, Edition of 5, © Taryn Simon.