For her latest project called "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar," photographer Taryn Simon takes on the dual role of modern undercover spy and old-time collector of curiosities.
After years of extensive research and struggling to overcome government restrictions, Simon has created a collection of photographs that documents the inaccessible places that exist below the surface of American identity. It took her as long as a year to gain permission to photograph some of the high-security zones on view in this work, like government-regulated quarantine sites, nuclear waste storage facilities, prison death rows and C.I.A. offices.
Because her approach tends to be very direct and unsentimental, some images like the albino tiger look like they could be museum displays, which only makes these mysterious spaces even more curious and seductive. Through her work, the strangeness of American culture shines.
This show is currently on view at Amazon.
See more images and background info on each photograph below.
White Tiger (Kenny), Selective Inbreeding
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
In the United States, all living white tigers are the result of selective inbreeding to artificially create the genetic conditions that lead to white fur, ice-blue eyes and a pink nose. Kenny was born to a breeder in Bentonville, Arkansas on 3 February 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded and has significant physical limitations. Due to his deep-set nose, he has difficulty breathing and closing his jaw, his teeth are severely malformed and he limps from abnormal bone structure in his forearms. The three other tigers in Kenny's litter are not considered to be quality white tigers as they are yellow coated, cross-eyed and knock-kneed.
Research Marijuana Crop Grow Room
National Center for Natural Products Research
The National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) is the only facility in the United States which is federally licensed to cultivate cannabis for scientific research. In addition to cultivating cannabis, NCNPR is responsible for analyzing seized marijuana for potency trends, herbicide residuals (paraquat) and fingerprint identification. NCNPR is licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and also researches and develops chemicals derived from plants, marine organisms, and other natural products.
While 11 states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision allows for the arrest of any individual caught using it for this purpose. Nearly half of the annual arrests for drug violations involve marijuana possession or trafficking.
The Central Intelligence Agency, Art
CIA Original Headquarters Building
The Fine Arts Commission of the CIA is responsible for acquiring art to display in the Agency's buildings. Among the Commission's curated art are two pieces (pictured) by Thomas Downing, on long-term loan from the Vincent Melzac collection. Downing was a member of the Washington Color School, a group of post World War II painters whose influence helped to establish the city as a center for arts and culture. Vincent Melzac was a private collector of abstract art and the Administrative Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.'s premiere art museum.
Since the founding of the CIA in 1947, the Agency has participated in both covert and public cultural diplomacy efforts throughout the world. It is speculated that some of the CIA's involvement in the arts was designed to counter Soviet Communism by helping to popularize what it considered pro-American thought and aesthetic sensibilities. Such involvement has raised historical questions about certain art forms or styles that may have elicited the interest of the Agency, including abstract expressionism.
Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility Cherenkov Radiation
Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy
Southeastern Washington State
Submerged in a pool of water at Hanford Site are 1,936 stainless-steel nuclear-waste capsules containing cesium and strontium. Combined, they contain over 120 million curies of radioactivity. It is estimated to be the most curies under one roof in the United States. The blue glow is created by the Cherenkov Effect which describes the electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle, giving off energy, moves faster than light through a transparent medium. The temperatures of the capsules are as high as 330 degrees Fahrenheit. The pool of water serves as a shield against radiation; a human standing one foot from an unshielded capsule would receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than 10 seconds. Hanford is among the most contaminated sites in the United States.
Playboy, Braille Edition
Playboy Enterprises, Inc.
New York, New York
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the U.S. Library of Congress, provides a free national library program of Braille and recorded materials for blind and physically handicapped persons. Magazines included in the NLS's programs are selected on the basis of demonstrated reader interest. This includes the publishing and distribution of a Braille edition of Playboy. Approximately 10 million American adults read Playboy every month, with three million obtaining it through paid circulation. It has included articles by writers such as Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Kurt Vonnegut and conducted interviews with Salvador Dali, Jean-Paul Sartre and Malcolm X.