Out of Sight

During the past 50 years, American photographers have sought to reveal America to us mostly by showing, in pictures snapped casually, or better, “casually,” the weirdness hidden in plain sight — on our sidewalks, along our roadsides and in our public rituals and spectacles. (Think of Robert Frank’s touchstone volume, “The Americans.”). Taryn Simon is of a younger generation (she is 31), and what she is after, in a remarkable new body of work she calls “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” is something altogether different: a sense of what we won’t allow one another to see. In the realms of government, science, security and nature, among others, Simon has gained access where few others have. Yet the resulting photographs carry no sense of struggle or shadowy danger. Like her pictures of tsunami victims and of men who were wrongfully convicted of violent crimes, which have appeared previously in our pages, these “Index” works are formal, carefully lighted, quiet, still: they’re portraits, not snapshots. (This March, these images will be collected in a book published by Steidl and also exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art.) What’s most strongly conveyed, perhaps, by a close study of these photographs, is how intricate and often systematic this off-limits land of ours is — how conscientious we can be about what we don’t want to be conscious of.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room Kennedy International Airport, Queens, N.Y.: Among the items seized from passengers in the 48 hours before the photograph was taken: African cane rats infested with maggots, Andean potatoes, Bangladeshi cucurbit plants, a pig’s head from South America.

Cryopreservation Unit Cryonics Institute Clinton Township, Mich.: This cryopreservation unit holds the bodies of Rhea and Elaine Ettinger, the mother and first wife of the cryonics pioneer Robert C. W. Ettinger. Robert, author of “The Prospect of Immortality” and “Man Into Superman, is still alive. The Cryonics Institute offers cryostasis (freezing) services for individuals and pets upon death. It charges $28,000 (plus fees) for the process if it is planned in advance of legal death and $35,000 for postmortem services.

Avian Quarantine Facility New York Animal Import Center Newburgh, N.Y.: African gray parrots and European finches, seized upon illegal importation into the U.S., in quarantine. Imported birds must undergo a 30-day mandatory quarantine in a U.S. Department of Agriculture animal-import facility. Before release, each bird is tested for avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease.

White Tiger (Kenny) Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge Eureka Springs, Ark.: 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 in the care of a breeder in Bentonville, Ark., on Feb. 3, 1999. As a result of inbreeding, Kenny is mentally retarded.

Marijuana Research Grow Room National Center for Natural Products Research Oxford, Miss.: The center is the only facility in the United States that is federally licensed to cultivate cannabis for scientific research.

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via pruned