PDN Photo of the Day

A Field Guide to the Bond Myth

Photographer Taryn Simon is one of the 35 artists included in the latest Carnegie International, an ambitious survey of contemporary art on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh through March 16. If Simon’s new exhibition, “Birds of the West Indies,” sounds like a birder’s field guide, that’s because she named it after one. The original, published in 1936, was written by ornithologist James Bond. When Ian Fleming, the spy turned novelist, found a copy of the book, he took the author’s name and gave it to the character of a suave British agent who would eventually be the subject of several of Fleming’s espionage novels and a series of movies. Simon’s exhibition and accompanying book is a field guide of sorts, documenting all the spy gadgets, weapons, cars and beautiful women that helped make up the James Bond myth. Simon’s clinical eye strips them of nostalgia or glamour. The explosive British pound notes used in the 1999 Bond movie The World Is Not Enough and the Aston Martin sports car that appeared in Quantum of Solace float in the middle of the frame and almost disappear into the black seamless. The actresses who played “Bond girls” are shot in full-length portraits, and each look at the camera with uneasy expressions. You’ve never seen Grace Jones (who appeared in the 1985 film A View to a Kill) look less animated. Simon takes a typological approach here, as she did in “Contraband,” her study of objects seized by security at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII,” a study of people and animals related by bloodlines. The museum noted that as in Simon’s earlier work, “Birds of the West Indies” strives to “investigate the impossibility of absolute understanding.” It also offers a chance to see what the actresses Honor Blackman and Jill St. John look like now.

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