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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)

To underscore and simultaneously call into question photography’s function as evidence, 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.

The Atlas Group embarked upon a series of projects to re-present existing documents and to produce new ones. Their work includes photography, video, multimedia presentations, and performances, which examine the ways in which the economic, political, and social history of Lebanon has been recorded, recalled, and ultimately understood.

My neck is thinner than a hair: Engines explores some of the thousands of car bomb explosions that occurred in Lebanon during its wars. Raad presents photographs from newspaper archives of the engines that were blasted out of the exploded cars. Though the engines rarely served as evidence in investigations of the violence, he notes that politicians often posed next to them to suggest that they were doing everything in their power to solve the crimes. In probing some of the lesser-explored aspects of the wars in Lebanon, he highlights our readiness to accept as facts the photographs and official narratives that are presented to us.

Walid Raad, “Night School, Part I” (lecture, The New Museum, New York, December 4, 2008).

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

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

The way a figure is positioned.

A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists, including actions, movements, gestures, and choreography. Performance art is often preceded by, includes, or is later represented through various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation, or oral and physical transmission.

A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.

Relating to or characterized by a concern with beauty or good taste (adjective); a particular taste or approach to the visual qualities of an object (noun).

Art Photographs as Intelligence Documents
As a college student, Raad was inspired by Eugène Atget’s extensive photo-documentation of nineteenth century Paris and challenged himself to similarly document Beirut—an ambition that proved difficult to achieve. As he explained, “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 Lebanese Civil War, a photograph was considered “an intelligence document” rather than “an aesthetic document.”1