Photography Professor to Implant Camera in the Back of His Head

November 17, 2010 /PN/ A photography professor from New York University is taking his art to the next level by having a camera surgically installed in the back of his head. 
The Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal has been commissioned by Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar to drill the thumbnail-sized camera into his head and have it take pictures at one-minute intervals for a year, with the images to be displayed in the museum after it opens in Doha on December 30.

According to the museum, the work is intended to be "a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience." 

The project - called "The 3rd I" - has created a stir at NYU, where students and administrators are worried about privacy issues. 

Bilal has offered to cover the camera with a lens cap when he is on the N.Y.U. campus, out of respect for students’ privacy, but the university may require him to turn the camera off. 
"As a school of the arts, a school whose mission is to educate artists, we place a high value on his right to free expression in his creative work as an artist, and take that principle very seriously," NYU Spokesman John Beckman said in a statement. "But as a school of the arts, we also take seriously the privacy issues his project raises, its impact on our students and the importance of preserving trust in the pedagogical relationship between a faculty member and students.

“There have been numerous conversations since Professor Bilal informed us of his project as we sought to find the right balance; we think they have been constructive and productive. We continue to discuss with him the right mechanism to ensure that his camera will not take pictures in NYU buildings.”

Bilal has provoked controversy with earlier projects, including one in 2008 called “Virtual Jihadi,” in which he altered a video game to insert an avatar of himself as a suicide-bomber targeting George W. Bush. 


  1. Anonymous says

    Great article, interesting!!!

    cindy says

    so what about his "very" private life? is that going to be also on display?

    Anonymous says

    The Google Street View guy :))

    David S. says

    Aside from the healing period and the kinda creepy nature of the project I would love to see those shots after the one year period.

    Bruce Philpott says

    Although it's not possible, I'd rather see what he's looking at than see what he's turned away from.

    Don't all teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads?

    Anonymous says

    I think not being able to see what he is seeing is kind of the point. It highlights the fallibility of photography, it's failings and the blanks left beyond the image frame. We still cling to the notion that photography is a truthful medium, that it somehow manages to distill or crystallize a moment or a memory into a handy rectangular snap-shot but it isn't. Photographers lie, either intentionally or otherwise, (and the camera simply does the bidding of it's master); they make choices, they aim their lens at the view in front of them forgetting or omitting everything to the side and behind. I doubt Bilal is attempting to create a body of more 'real' images, it seems he has long since embraced the futility of the quest for absolute objectivity, instead he seems to be concerned with making evident the 'short-comings' of photography. (I put that in inverted commas as I personally feel these gaps or failings are a good thing - being a photographer has led me to a greater understanding of what it is to actually be present, to exist in the world - the difference between real-life and the mini-death within the photograph; I too have found myself - unsuccessfully - trying to fill in these gaps in my work but the more I fail the more I appreciate my lived experience.)

    Anonymous says

    Lots and lots of photographs of his pillow.

    Anonymous says

    From the hallowed halls of academia......keep thinking I am reading this in The Onion.
    My faith in mankind tells me that out there, somewhere, is a kid with a camera who has something to 'say'....and not something to 'do.'
    This fits in perfectly with the old adage of 'those who can, do and those who can't, teach.'
    (and this is being written by a professor in photography.)
    The article puts a laugh in my heart at our own inability to see things for what they are...most times a futile attempt at 'seriousness' that is at best a folly.

    Joel C. says

    OK, so maybe it is art, on some level, but aside from the intention to have the back of your head take pictures there is no observation, no VISION, there is in fact nothing more photographic about this than there is with a security camera. It is technological knee jerk silliness that might elicit interesting images by accident. It would be more interesting to hand cameras to infants.

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