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The Photographic Record

Since its inception, photography has helped build a collective archive of human experience.

My neck is thinner than a hair: Engines

Walid Raad
(Lebanese, born 1967)

2001. One hundred pigmented inkjet prints, Each 9 7/16 x 13 3/8" (24 x 34 cm) Frame 9 13/16 x 13 3/4" (25 x 35 cm)

The 100 photographs that make up My Neck Is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines were taken at scenes where car bombs were detonated by various religious and political groups throughout the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990). Often, the only part of the car that remained intact after the blast was the engine, and newspaper reports of car bombs consistently included photographs of engines and the police officers, politicians, and onlookers who gathered in the aftermath of the explosion.

Walid Raad found these images, taken by amateur and professional photographers, in newspaper archives in Lebanon. He presents them as documents of The Atlas Group archive, an organization with a mission to research and document the recent history of Lebanon. While The Atlas Group “started off as an imaginary foundation,” he explains, “as others sought to join it, it over time became a real foundation and a real project.”1

Believing that the official histories of events in Lebanon failed to account for much of what people actually experienced, The Atlas Group embarked on a series of projects to re-present existing documents and produce new ones in the form of photography, video, multimedia presentations, and performances. In doing so, Raad examines the ways in which the economic, political, and social history of Lebanon has been recorded, recalled, and understood.

Walid Raad, interview by Antonia Bryan, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 14, 2005.
Walid Raad, “Night School, Part I” (lecture, The New Museum, New York, December 4, 2008).

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists.

The shape or structure of an object.

The Shifting Meaning of an Image
As a college student, Walid Raad was inspired by Eugène Atget’s extensive photo-documentation of Paris from the early 20th century and took up the challenge of how to similarly document Beirut. However, he recalls, “In 1987 it was relatively impossible to do this. You could only walk 300-400 meters before someone would stop you.” In the context of the Civil War a photograph was considered “an intelligence document” rather than “an aesthetic document.”2


AUDIO: Raad discusses The Atlas Group and his work Civilizationally, we do not dig holes to bury ourselves (1958-59/2003)