The Tate Modern is currently exhibiting the newest work from the American artist and photographer Taryn Simon, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters. This work involved Simon travelling the globe documenting various bloodlines and genealogies demonstrating the influence that external forces exert on families.
Taryn Simon’s new work documents 18 bloodlines each telling a fascinating or captivating narrative that has arisen from the individual genealogies. All of the chapter are comprised of three panels; the first panel has a series of portraits of the family in chronological order, the second panel then has a text description of the first, the third panel (referred to as the footnote panel) collects a series of objects, photographs, documents and so on that have been collected directly from the family or that pertain to the narrative being recounted.
The title of the exhibition comes from its opening chapter which documented the story of Shivvutt Yadav from India. He and three other members of his family were declared legally dead in an attempt by other members of the same family to take ownership of their land. However, with this work Simon is literally proving their existence in capturing them visually through the medium of photography.
Whilst most of the chapters follow a logical order, chapter XIV seems at first glance to break with the pattern. Several members of the family are repeated at various intervals throughout the first panel which when compared with the other chapters that are chronologically and scientifically ordered seems incongruous to the set. However, in the second panel we are informed that the family from Lebanon belong to a religious community called the Druze. The Druze believe in reincarnation, for example, one man is believed to be the reincarnation of his grandfather resulting in him being both his father’s son and his father’s father. The systematic pattern found within the other chapters is therefore disrupted as this family’s genealogy takes on a more complex and circular form. The third panel emphasizes this unique situation by utilizing photographs of the members of the family who believe they have been reincarnated by showing them recreating the deaths they incurred in their past lives.
All of the family portraits are shot in front of white backdrops meaning that we are left with stark images of each individual that suffer from no interference from background imagery. The photographs themselves may not push the boundaries creatively themselves but through the juxtaposition of both the photographs and the accompanying text, we are left with a series of surprising and absorbing narratives.
A Living Man Declared Dead by Taryn Simon is showing at the Tate Modern until the 2 January 2012. Further details about the exhibition can be found at www.tate.org.uk