Taryn Simon, Folder: Rear Views, 2012. Archival inkjet prints, 47 1/4 × 186 3/4 inches (120 × 474.3 cm) (overall). Promised gift of Kent and Kristen Lucken. © Taryn Simon
New York-based artist Taryn Simon works with photography, sculpture, installation, and performance to interrogate and examine the idea of the archive. Her work is concerned with how the organization of information is intimately connected to the holding of power, particularly through the construction, collection, and preservation of the photographic image. For more than a decade, Simon has worked with the New York Public Library’s the Picture Collection, which since 1915 has amassed over 1.5 million images in a circulating archive, allowing researchers to borrow image folders. Simon has been interested in the collection since childhood, specifically its classification system, which groups photographs, prints, clippings, and film stills under 12,000 subject headings that include such categories as “Waiting Rooms,” “Wind,” “Air Raids,” and “Autumn.” Researchers can borrow entire folders (of up to sixty images at a time), and thus the sequence of the images changes as the image folders circulate. In 2012, Simon began a series of photographic works to visualize this circulation and the archive’s unique system. Folder: Rear Views (referencing “Rear Views,” a humorous and unusual subject heading), compiles portraits of people and animals from behind in various environments and states of dress (and undress) from a wide range of sources, including illustrations, media clippings, views of sculptures, and photographs by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Simon arranges and then photographs the contents of a folder across four rows of layered groupings, creating loose associations between the pictured materials. Presented in three components to show the full expanse of the folder’s contents, Folder: Rear Views both comments on the power relationships within portrait photography, and reflects on the visual relationships we make through the pictures we collect.