For those of you who are politically conscious art lovers, there is a great exhibit up in DC’s Provisions Library that should not be missed.
Entitled The Innocents: Headshots, this series of headshots shows men (and a woman) who were all convicted of violent crimes, none of which they committed. Photographer Taryn Simon has been exhibiting this project for a few years.
All the people photographed were exonerated thanks to DNA evidence, which, of course, proved that there was no way they could have committed the crimes. The exhibit also shows how mugshots and lineups can be more deceiving for a crime victim than they can be helpful. Many of the exonerated were convicted based entirely on mistaken identity. In one case, the star witness at the murder trial was himself the murderer. Underneath each headshot, there is that the story of the that person’s case as well as personal statements taken from interviews Simon did with all the ex-inmates.
Playing on a big screen in the front of the gallery are videotaped interviews with the different men from the series. In these emotional conversations, the men talk about not being able to trust anyone anymore, of feeling like they always need alibi witnesses, of being afraid to even spit out some gum for fear that their DNA will be used against them. And about not being able to adjust back to normal life after being in prison.
“Headshots” is only one part of a larger project. Simon photographed over 45 wrongly accused ex-cons. In large color photographs, like the one above (which is in the enterance to the library), the men are photographed at the scenes of the crimes, their alibi locations, where they were arrested, etc. Though these aren’tshown in the library gallery, there is Taryn Simon’s full book in which you can see the full series of photographs.
There are definitely flaws with the way our criminal justice system works. And as the photos will show, there is definitely bias as to who is convicted and who is not. Race and class definitely play a factor…this is clear in Simon’s body of work. But what this work also shows is the progress that has been made with DNA evidence and important it has become to solving violent crime.
You can buy the book The Innocents at Amazon.com