Indian Sundance

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar Taryn Simon with a forword by Salman Rushdie, an introduction by Elisabeth Sussman and Tina Kukielsky and a commentary by Ronald Dworkin, Steidl, 65 €

An American IndexPublished in 2007 and reprinted one year later after winning the ICP Infinity Award, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar by photographer Taryn Simon is a fascinating book. Compiled as an inventory of the most hidden aspects of American society, of what lies beneath and what determines its identity, it is more than a collection of images. 

The first and the last pages of the book are an indicator of the complexity involved in carrying out a work of this scope. It must have taken several years and a lot of persuasion to photograph these hidden places, usually forbidden to public view. From the ideogram floating in blue radioactive light, to the polite but negative response offered by Disney Publishing Worldwide, the sites and the encounters photographed by Taryn Simon are as varied as they are improbable, hovering on the borderlines of power and daily life. 

The precision of her choice of places and subjects reveals the structure and conceptual rigor of Taryn Simon’s work. In one image, the photographer unveils the top secret headquarters of the CIA through her collection of images, and in another, a body-freezing facility, symbol of our dreams of immortality, or, further on, the magnificent ritualistic ceremony of the Sun Dance, returning us to an awareness of the earth and its elements. Geographical, political or religious, whether dedicated to research or territorial security, these places appear brightly lit, taken head-on. With this perspective, the photographer confers a sense of the abstract or fantastic on each image, complemented by the warm tones of the prints. 

Each photograph is accompanied by a text which describes the scene in an objective and informative way. This association of image/text is at the heart of Taryn Simon’s work. The gap between the two forms of representation creates a distance, a space, that the photographer enjoys exploring. 

With An American Index of the Hidden and the Unfamiliar Taryn Simon succeeds in illuminating the obscure –and sometimes disturbing– places which, even beyond American shores, reflect our own society’s development and the threats associated with it.

By Benoit Fougeirol