Taryn Simon – A living man declared dead and other chapters. I – XVIII

Taryn Simon in front of one of her chapters at the Tate Modern

A living man declared dead is a collection of eighteen chapters of recording bloodlines via photography that is currently on show at the Tate Modern London. Each chapter also shows the external forces of goverement, territory, history and power effecting the internal heritage of those photographed. The chapters are constructed into three parts. The first part being a portrait panel which orders specific bloodlines. The 2nd panel is the text panel which provides a list of relevant infomation and to the right is a panel with what Taryn calls ‘footnotes’ [1] which includes images which represents fragments of the overall story, sometimes these are location shots or personal effects, or a leading arc into another story.

An example of the three part structure seen in this exhibition

Each of the photos on the left hand panel are taken against a neutral cream background, this is done to eliminate any background environment and context  from the pictures, The portraits are very specifically ordered and the identities of each of those photographed (when possible) is revealed within the text panel, (example below)

Subjects included in this work include; a body double of Saddam Hussein’s son U’day, Feuding Families in Brazil, an Orphanage in Ukraine, The Gallagher family of scotland which was effected by the drug ‘Thalidomide’ and even rabbits being experimented on by the Australian government.

I went to visit the exhibition at the tate on Monday, September 5th. I found that the placement of the photos on the left and the  neutral background attached to each of those photographs worked very well to keep a shock/surprise value when you realized the backgrounds of the subject’s involved. For example there was a chapter with just 3 pictures involved showing a mother and her two sons individually. I was shocked to learn that the mother was in fact terrorist Leila Khaled who was the first woman to hijack the a plane. I found it especially interesting because of her photo’s neutral style, I remember saying to my friend who I went the gallery with that it was like a photo of an aunty and with no prior knowledge of the person (which I didn’t have) There’s no way you could guess what this woman has been capable of in this past. Another interesting trick that is played with the photos is shown when you get to a chapter about The Dodini family of Lebanon and in the timeline you see several photos of Robardo Dodini, seemingly breaking the pattern set within the previous chapters. However in the text panel it is revealed that it is believed by himself and his family that he is the reincarnation of his grandfather, hence his repeated use in the left panel as he is both his father’s son and his father’s father.

Example of portraits featured in left panel

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to put this project together, I’m aware that the piece was four years in the making, but i’m quite interested in finding out how much of the project was kept secret to the subjects involved. for example did the feuding familes showcased in Taryn’s brazilian chapter know about the other family taking part? Years of prior research was undertaken and translators and ‘fixers’ needed to be hired to orginise each of the shoots. If a new member of the family bloodline was suddenly discovered then a new shoot had to take place. [2]

I thought overall this exhibition was fantastic and made me think long and hard about the three words that were given as inspiration for our summer work (Power, Memory and Spectacle) I felt that this piece Incorporated all three well, and has certinanly planted a few seeds which may help inspire ideas of my own I liked how on the surface this exhibition looked pretty simple but in reality must have been a nightmare to put together but also brings a unique way to look at eighteen different stories which most visitors to the exhibition will not be aware of.


[1]  http://channel.tate.org.uk/media/974388916001

[2] http://www.tarynsimon.com/docs/Revenant_GeoffreyBatchen.pdf


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s