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Remembering Abbas Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 April 2018

Iranian photographer Abbas died in Paris yesterday after covering wars and revolutions in Biafra, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Middle East, Chile, Cuba, and South Africa during apartheid. He was 74.

A Magnum photographer for 27 years, Abbas also pursued a lifelong interest in religion, sparked by the Iranian revolution. He collected images from 29 countries to create the book and exhibition Allah O Akbar: A Journey Through Militant Islam and his Faces of Christianity: A Photographic Journey was published in 2000. He also published work on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and animism.

Born in Iran, Abbas joined Sipa Press in Paris by 1971, where he stayed until 1973. From 1974-1980 he was represented by Gamma, documenting Muhammad Ali's legendary Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 and the Iranian Revolution from 1978 and 1980.

'I don't just make stories about what's happening. I'm making stories about my way of seeing what's happening.'

After he left Iran in 1980 he didn't return to the country until 1997 for his book Iran Diary 1971-2002. He told anyone who tried to stop him from photographing, "This is for history."

He joined Magnum in 1981, becoming a full member in 1985. From 1983-1986 he traveled through Mexico, creating Return to Mexico: Journeys Beyond the Mask, comprised of both his images and journal entries.

In 2000, he began exploring why non-rational ritual has re-emerged in a world increasingly defined by science and technology. But he abandoned the project in 2002 to study the clash of religions defined as a culture rather than faith. He believed religions were turning into political ideologies, becoming a source of conflict in the world.

From 2008 to 2010 Abbas focused on the world of Buddhism. In 2016 he published Gods I've Seen about his travels among the Hindus in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bali.

At his death, his study of religion was focused on documenting Judaism around the world.

Abbas explained his approach to photography this way:

The school of Henri Cartier-Bresson, they draw with light, they sketch with light. The single picture is paramount for them. For me, that was never the point. My pictures are always part of a series, an essay. Each picture should be good enough to stand on its own but its value is a part of something larger.

He once said he used to proudly call himself a photojournalist rather than an artist. But not any more because "although I use the techniques of a photojournalist and get published in magazines and newspapers, I am working at things in depth and over long periods of time."

He clarified that by saying, "I don't just make stories about what's happening. I'm making stories about my way of seeing what's happening."

"He was a pillar of Magnum, a godfather for a generation of younger photojournalists," President Thomas Dworzak said in Magnum's obituary. "It is with immense sadness that we lose him. May the gods and angels of all the world's major religions he photographed so passionately be there for him."

In addition to his Web site, which also includes an extensive set of short video interviews with him, the Guardian has published a slide show of his work.

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