Crime and Punishment

Taryn Simon Struggles With 'The Innocents'

They don’t need to entertain us: Calvin Washington, C&E Motel, Room No. 24, Waco, Texas (2001).
Taryn Simon: The Innocents/courtesy Umbrage Editions
They don’t need to entertain us: Calvin Washington, C&E Motel, Room No. 24, Waco, Texas (2001).

Neither, I suppose, does Simon. But she can't merely deliver the news. Too often the photos in "The Innocents" feel stiff and stifled—careful, skillful exercises rather than genuine expressions. Simon made her reputation with tough, sexy, smartly staged photos, so her tentativeness here is uncharacteristic and uncomfortable. You can understand why she'd hesitate to set her subjects in the sort of faux film stills that fill editorial pages these days. After all, they'd already endured more than their fair share of trumped-up fiction. Still, because Simon hasn't really found an alternative to the slick stylization she helped make so popular, she seems lost somewhere between sincerity and artifice. It's not likely she'll remain there for long. Her best pictures already point the way back to a darker, stranger place.

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