The Innocents (2002)—a project focused on Americans wrongly convicted of violent crimes they did not commit and later exonerated through DNA evidence—questions photography’s function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice. Simon photographed Charles Fain at the scene of the crime he had been wrongfully convicted of: a place to which he has never been, but one that had forever changed his life. Simon confronts photography’s ability to blur truth and fiction—an ambiguity that can have severe, even lethal consequences. The primary cause of wrongful convictions has been mistaken identification. A victim or eyewitness identifies a suspected perpetrator through law enforcement’s use of photographs and lineups, a procedure that relies on the assumption of precise visual memory. But, through exposure to composite sketches, mug shots, Polaroids, and lineups, eyewitness memory can change. As the dissemination of information has become increasingly image driven, the concepts of knowledge, interpretation, and truth are frequently conflated. Simon’s art acknowledges this and the ambiguity of observation that photographs invite.
Gallery label from XL: 19 New Acquisitions in Photography, May 10, 2013–January 6, 2014.