Photographers You Should Know: Taryn Simon by Eugen Sakhnenko

I’ve held off talking about Taryn Simon for a long time because she is so recent, but I’ll be honest: she is my favourite photographer. Upon receiving her newest book – A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, I can no longer keep quiet. Simon’s work should definitely be on your radar! 

The Big Deal: Since winning a Guggenhiem Fellowship in 2001, Taryn Simon has been moving full steam ahead and is showing no signs of slowing down. At only 35, she has already published four books, two of them by the legendary publisher Steidl. She’s won numerous awards, been shown in the world’s great museums, and is represented by the prolific Gagosian Gallery (even Jay-Z raps about it). Her work often is both documentary and conceptual in nature. Single projects take year’s to complete as she negotiates access to places such as a nuclear waste storage facility and death row prisoner’s recreation area or people such as a body double of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. In my mind her photographs explore contemporary culture like no one else’s, by tackling topics such as genocide, illegal immigration, incarceration, and much more.

Life in Brief: Born in New York City in 1975, Simon attended Brown University (1993) – first studying environmental sciences and later transferring to art and semiotics. While at school she also took photography courses at Rhode Island School of Design. After school she became an editorial photographer, working for publications such as The New York Times and Vanity Fair. After wanting to do something more lasting than editorial work, she applied (and received) a Guggenhiem Fellowship for her project The Innocents – photographs of wrongfully convicted individuals in America. The project set off her fine-art career and she continued with projects such as The American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Contraband, and most recently, a Living Man Declared Dead and other Chapters.

Larry Mayes, from The Innocents

Troy Webb, from The Innocents

William Gregory, from The Innocents

Cryopreservation Unit, from An American Index of
the Hidden and Unfamiliar

Hymenoplasty, from An American Index of
the Hidden and Unfamiliar

Playboy, Braille Edition, from An American Index of
the Hidden and Unfamiliar

Hydrocodone, India (illegal), from Contraband

USA American Visagra, Viagra, China (counterfeit), from Contraband

Unidentified mammal, Indonesia (prohibited), from Contraband

Excerpt from Chapter I, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters

For More:

A Full Bio by Aaron Schuman
Taryn Simon’s TED Talk
Taryn Simon’s Charlie Rose Interview  


Eugen Sakhnenko is a Toronto-based freelance photographer and the co-creator of the Knock Twice blog, which is where a version of this post originally appeared. It's is an online resource to assist and inform budding creative professionals. You can visit Knock Twice here.


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