Thursday, March 22, 2007

What the heck is the Atlas Group?

Stanco (Stand Banos) asks "OK, a little help here, please! This Atlas Group- a few snapshots, a lotta concept, and some stained and unspotted prints that appear scavenged from the bottom of the reject bin of a Darkroom 101 Photo Class..."

The best I can do on short notice is a Guardian article from a couple of years ago (there's also an article in Village Voice among others):

...Among the various factions, cadres, cells and shadowy organisations that emerged in the aftermath of Lebanon's 15-year civil war, the Atlas Group remains one of the most enigmatic. Not only is there some doubt whether the group still exists, there are also those who believe it never existed at all. Rumour piles on rumour. Claim is matched by counter-claim. Forged papers, false documentation, fake texts, staged and doctored video footage and testimonies are at the heart of the group's work, just as rumour, myth, disinformation and bald untruth are the tactical weapons in the information wars that continue long after actual hostilities have ceased and the parties have reconciled themselves to whatever it is that the future holds....

...Although Raad's work, and the Atlas Group itself, deals in the gulf between events and their description, and casts doubt on those who claim to hold the truth, its purpose seems to me to go deeper. The larger truths of history - such as who won or lost a war, or how it came about - and the smaller events and individual experiences that make it up are not the same thing...

To me their work is about media, media bias, propaganda, seemingly endless regional conflict, the effect on people of such conflicts, humour, resilience, resistance, truth and deception, the truth and fiction of photographs, memory/history/archives, complicity and complacency - all of which are at the heart of our way of life today in one way or another.

A last quote from the Guardian (though I also like the introductory story - about a subversive surveillance photograph er who preferred to photograph the sunset from The Corniche than his subjects...):

We all know that how we read images, and what we infer from them, depends in large part on what we are told. This is as true of art as it is of newspapers, documentary footage, and even the things we see and experience for ourselves. Raad does more than pick away at our sense of certainty.

Over 15 years, 3,641 car bombs left 4,386 dead and thousands injured during the civil war in Lebanon. This much is certain. But is it also true that the only part that remains after a car bomb explodes is the engine, and did photo-journalists during the civil war compete to be the first to locate and photograph the engines, which sometimes landed hundreds of metres away from the blast? What do the 100 photos, annotated in Arabic, and which show soldiers, munitions experts and others gazing at the wreckage of all these cars, actually tell us, over and above the dreadful repetition of the images, the archiving of the scenes? Just to show them seems enough. And then one thinks of the absurdity of all the camera-toting picture-hounds, rushing to be the first on the scene.

and another from a gallery exhibit:

Walid Raad works with video, photography, and literary essays to investigate the contemporary history of war in his native Lebanon. (We Decided To Let Them Say “We Are Convinced” Twice. It Was More Convincing This Way.), a series of 15 large-scale photographs, specifically recalls the Israeli Army’s invasion and siege of Beirut in 1982. That summer Raad, an intrepid 15-year-old with a telephoto lens, took photographs of near and distant military activity in West Beirut from his home in the eastern sector. Recently reprinting the pictures from the original, now degraded negatives, he discovered that the images’ unusual discoloration, creases, and holes offered a disturbing but realistic representation of a broken world rendered flat by the series of catastrophes that had befallen it.

FWIW, my response to all this is very much a gut one. When I see something like this - even if only in print or in the internet, I get this kick in the guts that say - hey, he's got something there - even if that feeling has a hard time overriding some of my - hmm, that's a fuzzy tattered photo instinct (or the "I hate video installations" voice in my head). I've learnt that in the end I get most benefit from listening to the first gut response, even if it takes a while...

The Atlas Group archives can be found here

1 comment:

Stan B. said...

Much obliged! Not my cup o' tea aesthetically, but can at least sympathize with the cause...

Recalls to mind the handful of Afghanis who (at no small risk to themselves) sealed and walled over the small room housing the negatives of the entire Afghani film archives from the prying eyes and torch of the Taliban.