In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Taryn Simon gains entrance to places as diverse as a white tiger breeding facility, the JFK Airport quarantine area, a nuclear waste treatment site and virus-research labs. In doing so, she brings to light that which is integral to America's foundation, mythology and daily functioning, but remains inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. In her earlier book, The Innocents, Simon documents cases of wrongful conviction in the US, calling into question photography's function as a credibly witness and arbiter of justice.
In A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII, Simon captures the essence of vast, generation-spanning stories through photography, text and graphic design. To create this ambitious project, she spent four years traveling the world, researching and recording bloodlines. The subjects that Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. In her second TED Talk, Simon delves into several of these "chapters", investigating the nature of genealogy and the ways in which our lives are shaped by the collision of external forces, including territory, power, circumstance and religion, with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance.
After premiering at the Tate Modern in London and at Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie, Simon's A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII exhibited at MoMA in New York, followed by the Ullens Center in Beijing, where the work was subject to censorship despite one of its chapters having originally been developed by the artist in collaboration with China's Office of Foreign Propaganda.