While at Brown, Simon worked for the late Michael Hoffman at Aperture, organizing his library of photography books. She was already fascinated by August Sander, whose 1929 collection of black and white photographs of Germans of all social strata, Face of Our Time, is one of the great records of the 20th century. After graduating, Simon assisted a man who shot for Kids “R” Us, and later she photographed rappers for Vibe.
I met Simon not long after, when I was editing French Vogue. Her talent impressed me, and I asked her to shoot portraits for the magazine. One day the art director came in, frantic: “Taryn’s going to Chechnya. You have to do something.” I picked up the phone and told her that terrible things would happen to her in Chechnya, and that she should not go.
“I should save myself so I can do more sittings for Vogue?” she asked.
“Go to Chechnya,” I said.
Simon threw herself into serious work. She shot heads of state for The New York Times Magazine, whose photo editor, Kathy Ryan, sent Simon on the assignment that would become “The Innocents”: portraits of men just released from prison, exonerated of their crimes. “I started shooting and realized the photos weren’t representing the gravity of what I was encountering,” says Simon. “So I decided to go to the sites that were integral to the cases I was covering. The crime scene was what I sought above all, as it was a place these men had never been but that had changed their lives forever—highlighting the difficult relationship, in their lives and in photography, between truth and fiction.”
In 2002, Simon teamed up with Joseph Logan (now the design director of this magazine) to turn “The Innocents” into a book. Logan has since collaborated on all four of Simon’s books, culminating in the 800-page, ten-and-a-half-pound Brobdingnagian bible that is A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters. “She’s inherently mistrustful of photography and the way people think of it,” Logan says. “She never wants to use the tricks of photography to manipulative effect—it’s as blunt as it can be. She still uses lighting, but you never get the sense she is using it to idealize or seduce or fix.”
In 1999, Simon met Jake Paltrow, a screenwriter and director; they married last year in a tiny ceremony at the United Nations chapel. The fact that Paltrow’s sister is Gwyneth brings a whole new set of flash points. “Taryn is very wary about the connections she has to certain worlds—Hollywood versus the art world,” Logan explains, “and what kind of attention she gets.”
People seem more dazzled by Simon’s close friendship with Salman Rushdie—who continues to make up for his 10 years in hiding with gregarious ubiquity—than by her sister-in-law. Simon and Rushdie met in France through Malouf’s mother, the Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh. “Taryn told me about her pictures,” Rushdie says, “and asked if she could show them to me back in New York. I was astonished and impressed. Soon after, very carefully and almost shyly, she asked if I would consider writing a preface for the book accompanying the Whitney show. She’s implacable in pursuit of what she wants. She has become,” he adds, “one of my most trusted friends.”