To underscore and simultaneously call into question photography’s evidentiary function, many artists use existing images backed by the authority of the institutions that house them, such as libraries, archives, or news outlets. Under the name of The Atlas Group, a fictional foundation and archive, Walid Raad explores questions about the authority and authenticity of officially disseminated information on the recent, violent history of Lebanon.
Additional text from Seeing Through Photographs online course, Coursera, 2016
The Atlas Group is a fictional non–profit research organization Raad founded in 1999. It presents itself to the public as a real collective with a mission to research and document the contemporary history of Lebanon, in particular the civil wars between 1975 and 1991. In the guise of The Atlas Group, Raad collects and fabricates photographs, videotapes, notebooks, and films and presents the findings in the form of exhibitions, video screenings, and lectures. This work assembles one hundred photographs of car engines taken by amateur and professional photographers. During the civil wars, approximately 245 car bombs exploded in Lebanon, detonated by groups across the political and religious spectrum. 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. Raad collected the photographs from newspaper archives in Lebanon, scanned their fronts and backs, and printed them with the date of the explosion, the name of the photographer (when known), and an English translation of the notations on the backs of the pictures. From a complex political issue he extracts and clarifies one aspect: the photo opportunity. This is just one lens through which Raad examines the ways in which the economic, political, and social history of Lebanon has been recorded, recalled, and understood.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, p. 160.