The KW Institute for Contemporary Art presents recent photographs by American artist Taryn Simon whose body of work bridges the worlds of art and politics. Simon's subjects - the wrongfully convicted, Chechen Rebels, a death row inmate and the Cuban leader Fidel Castro - are captured in a series of rare and unsettling portraits. The artist's formal choices - the use of dramatic lighting, large-scale format photography and the calculated relationship between the subject and the location - simultaneously seduce and challenge the viewer to confront contemporary social and political issues.
In The Innocents, Simon 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 photographs and lineups provided by law enforcement. This procedure assumes that visual memory is precise. Through exposure to composite sketches, mugshots, Polaroids, and lineups, eyewitness memory can change. In the cases presented, photography offered the justice system a tool that assisted officers in obtaining erroneous eyewitness identifications, aided prosecutors in securing convictions, and transformed innocent citizens into criminals. In these wrongful convictions, the criminal justice system often failed to recognize the limitations of relying on photographs as evidence.
Simon photographed her subjects at sites of particular significance in their wrongful convictions. These locations-the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the scene of the alibi, and the scene of the crime-hold contradictory meanings for the subjects. The scene of arrest marks the starting point of a reality that is 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.
In the Chechen Rebels series Simon worked with photographer Alexei Hay documenting injured fighters in Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Southern Caucuses. These photographs aim to document stories that the Russian media has consistently tried to keep from the public. In these photographs Simon approaches a serious journalistic pursuit with the tools of large format photography and elaborate lighting.
In her slide show presenting Fidel Castro along with landscapes of the Palace of the Revolution's interior, Simon offers a rare look into a forbidden side of Cuba and its leader. These images are presented as a slide show to avoid reproduction.
Finally, an alarming photograph of an American death row inmate represents the oppressive architecture and excessive punishment of the American criminal justice system.
This exhibition is organized by Chief Curator Klaus Biesenbach and Amy Smith Stewart, and made possible by the James Family Foundation, the American Center Foundation, the Ava Olivia Knoll Fund and the friends of KW, Gesellschaft für Zeitgenössische Kunst, GZK.
This project was generously supported by the Innocence Project and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Photography.
Special thanks to Producer: Althea Wasow, Researcher and Production Producer: Sarah Baden, Photographer's Assistants: Louis Gabriel and Kevin Hooyman, Joseph Logan, Kari Mulholland, Adorama, Color Edge, Art and Commerce, and Gagosian Gallery.