My Neck is Thinner Than A Hair
The Atlas Group and Walid Raad
FACT 2005, 226 pgs
By Carolyn Tripp
As unsettling as they are, photographs of devastation and violence are fairly commonplace. Come to think of it, so too are the debates concerning how familiar they’ve become in print and on television. Even so, the page after page of post car bomb photographs taken various media photographers makes for an intriguing non-flipbook of devastation in My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair by the Atlas Group and Walid Raad. This volume contains images exclusively from Lebanon’s civil war, dating between 1976 and 1991.
Like so many attacked hearts bursting from scores of aching chests, the engines have left their intended homes and are the only portions of the wreckages to remain intact when the carnage is over. Many of them are actually found several blocks away from the original explosion sites.
Question marks popped above my desk, however, when I considered the attempt in archiving something of this magnitude, not to mention gravitas. This is mainly due to the fact that attempts at documenting historical events often focus on narrative rather than accuracy. In either case, there is the perennial conundrum of portraying that which we know to have happened, and the point of view we wish our audience to absorb. The exclusivity of the project, i.e. car bombs, presents a problem when considering this dichotomy.
Much to the publication’s credit, the layout is fairly pragmatic, which certainly references what one might consider an “archive proper.” Still, design and layout, with scans of the envelopes in which the images were found, become more of a focus than what may be deemed necessary, at least as it concerns the realm of history. Thus, it introduces the potential for the photographs to overshadow the subjects they contain.
All of these qualms remained floating above my workspace until memory prompted a conversation that I had back in 1997 with a penpal from Buffalo. I chanced asking her which country she believed to have won the war of 1812. She insisted adamantly that it was the United States of America. Before she had even finished her sentence, I responded with the usual Canadian answer. Both of our contentions, lifted from textbooks in our respective countries, were inaccurate. This only serves me now as a mildly interesting anecdote, but is useful nonetheless. The general lack of truth nestled in our education (and in educational print) is at times like some kind of rank, gaseous fog, never entirely lifted from the time it’s set upon us at the age of five.
The debate rages on worse than your sister when you call her thighs tubby. Perhaps the enduring question of historical veracity in print can never be resolved, but the Atlas Group has accomplished a damned stylish task with this volume, even if it does bring forth musings about semantics, accuracies, and General Brock.
Like a catalogue of Twinkies after the apocalypse, these car engines are grim and repetitive objects, but never ad nauseum. They manage, and quite compellingly so, to contribute new dimensions to the already convoluted task of portraying the not-so-civil.