The Photography Legends come back on the blog this week with a tribute to the Magnum Agency's photo-journalist, Abbas, who died at the age of 74 on April 2018.

He was a veteran that inspired a lot of young photojournalists and a pillar at Magnum. A citizen of the world who documented all the most important conflicts, wars, and catastrophes all along his life

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About the Artist

Abbas Attar, most known as "Abbas," was born in Iran in 1944 and based in Paris, France.

He started photojournalism in the 70's when he covered Vietnam conflicts and South Africa apartheid period for International Magazines.

“As a boy, I had a heroic image of the journalist: you traveled, you went to war, you covered historical events,” wrote Abbas in 2017, reflecting on his war photographs in Vietnam, which he visited a number of times from 1972.

He joined Sipa press until 1974 and then Gamma.

He also started working on the Iranian Revolution, in the late 70's, which was a unique experience for the photographer being Iranian himself. He returned to the country in 1997 after seventeen years of voluntary exile. His book Iran Diary 1971-2002 is a critical interpretation of Iranian history, photographed and written as a private journal.

In an interview with BBC Culture last year, Abbas spoke about his experience documenting the Iranian revolution. “I knew, even when it happened, that only once in my lifetime I would be not only concerned but I was also involved, at least in the early stages.”



Describing himself as a “historian of the present,” Abbas explained that his answer to those who tried to deter him from photographing was to tell them, in Farsi, “This is for history.”

He worked continuously in the 80's and 90's, far away from home, and traveled throughout Mexico. In 1981 he joined the Magnum Photo Agency, the best photojournalist agency of the world.



Abbas, a particular interest for religion

From 1987 to 1994, he photographed the resurgence of Islam from Xinjiang in China to Morocco.

His book and exhibition Allah O Akbar, a journey through militant Islam, exposes the internal tensions within Muslim societies, torn between a mythical past and a desire for modernization and democracy. The book draws special attention after the September 11 terror attacks in New York.



*Read on: Photography Legends: Guy Bourdin

Abbas concerns about religion led him to make an individual work on Animism and Animist Societies in the 2000's in which he sought to discover why non-rational ritual has re-emerged in a world increasingly defined by science and technology. He abandoned this undertaking in 2002, on the first anniversary of 9/11, to start a new long-term project about the clash of religions, defined as a culture rather than faith, which he believed were turning into political ideologies and therefore one of the sources of the strategic struggles of the contemporary world.

From 2008 to 2010 Abbas traveled the world of Buddhism, photographing with the same skeptical eye. In 2013, he made a similar long-term project on Hinduism. His 2016 book Gods I’ve Seen is the culmination of this work. It is a stunning visual exploration of contemporary Hinduism, capturing the mysticism of ancient rites as they are woven into the everyday rituals and activities of Hindus in India and beyond.



Up until his death, Abbas continued to explore religion, with a focus on documenting Judaism around the world.

About his photographs Abbas wrote:

« My photography is a reflection, which comes to life in action and leads to meditation. Spontaneity – the suspended moment – intervenes during action, in the viewfinder. A reflection on the subject precedes it. A meditation on finality follows it, and it is here, during this exalting and fragile moment, that the real photographic writing develops, sequencing the images. For this reason, a writer’s spirit is necessary to this enterprise. Isn’t photography « writing with light »? But with the difference that while the writer possesses his word, the photographer is himself possessed by his photo, by the limit of the real which he must transcend so as not to become its prisoner. »

To see more of Abba's work:

Abbas and the revolution
Magnum Photos


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