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The Innocents is a book of portraits of former inmates accompanying a traveling exhibit by the same name mounted by the Innocence Project, a 10-year-old civil rights program founded by rock-star attorneys Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck to free the wrongly convicted via DNA testing. Neufeld and Scheck provide the book's foreward and brief commentary on each case. The subjects are all ex-cons who were exonerated through DNA testing and then released after serving time. Some had been sentenced to life, some to death. Taryn Simon's photographs put prisoners in the spotlight--only this time they regain their dignity and become art in the process. Of the 80-plus portraits in the book, most were taken at the scenes of the crimes. Some pose with the victims. Ronald Cotton, for example, served more than 10 years of a life sentence for rape. He is photographed with a victim, both of them staring at the camera with fortitude and bitterness. Nearly every picture is similar, the subject staring directly into the lens, always surrounded by the same eerie, diffused light like the kind when tornadoes loom. The subjects are interviewed by Simon as well; their commentary is also distressing and poignant. Neil Miller says he had a better life in prison. Richard Danziger was freed but rendered brain damaged by a jailhouse attacker. Walter Snyder went to prison instead of the Olympics. Most of these subjects were convicted on the basis of witness misidentification. Simon's photos are also like mug shots, depicting their subjects with emotionless expressions and using lighting that flattens out the surroundings. But here they set the record straight as Simonís art helps re-humanize them. --Eric Reyes
From Publishers Weekly
Working to free convicts who are convinced that DNA evidence would exonerate them, the Innocence Project was founded by attorneys Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck (of O.J. Simpson and nanny Louise Woodward fame) and is based at the Cardozo School of Law in New York City. The project has had a role in more than 100 overturned convictions, some of which are chronicled in Neufeld and Scheck's Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted (2000) and now in this stunning book. A Guggenheim fellow who is not yet 30, Simon photographed 39 men and one woman whose convictions have been reversed or overturned, often taking the photos at the scenes of the crimes that they did not commit. Chris Ochoa stands, hands firmly on a handrail, outside the Pizza Hut in Austin, Tex., where a woman was raped and murdered, the victim's mother by his side. Charles Irvin Fain stands in the dark on the shore of the Snake River near Melba, Idaho, where a girl was abducted and murdered, lit from behind by the headlights of his truck. Calvin Washington stands, bathed in yellow lamp light, inside cabin 24 of the C&E Motel in Waco, Tex., where an informant claimed to have heard him confess to rape and murder; Simon photographs him from outside. Most of the men wear resolute expressions; most are minorities and come from modest backgrounds. Facing the portraits, commentary on the facts of the cases by Neufeld and Scheck is complemented by comments the subjects made in interviews with Simon. As Larry Youngblood notes, "[I]t's never going to be the same. Those years are lost. You can't get them back." Simon's incisive, perfectly composed full-page portraits, reproduced in sharp, clear relief, make that hauntingly clear.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
John Bloom, United Press International, April 2003
"These photographs are mesmerizing character studies reminiscent of Walker Evans in their sheer emotional power."
Sara Catania, LA Weekly, May 16, 2003
"The stillness of the images, bordering on aloofness... seems more like Hopper than Leibovitz."
Vince Aletti, The Village Voice, June 6, 2003
"They don't need to perform for the camera... they don't need to entertain us."
About the Author
Taryn Simon was born in 1975 in New York. In 1997, she graduated from Brown University. Her photographs have exhibited internationally, and been featured in numerous publications including, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. In 2001, she was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Photography. He work can be viewed at Gagosian Gallery in New York City.
Peter Neufeld and Barry C. Scheck co-founded and direct the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. The Project provides pro bono representation to inmates throughout the country who claim that DNA testing could prove their innocence. The Project also studies the institutional causes of wrongful convictions and provides remedies to reduce the frequency of future miscarriages of justice.
These are the faces and voices of the wrongfully convicted. These are the stories of people imprisoned for years before finally proving their innocence. This collection of photographs and interviews with the wrongfully convicted are gathered from across the United States. They expose a broken judicial system where corrupt prosecutors, sleeping lawyers, bent cops, and jailhouse snitches subvert the most fundamental principles of justice.