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Abbas (1944–2018)

Abbas, an Iranian-born photographer whose images of war, revolution, and political strife around the world earned him near-legendary status, died at age seventy-four in Paris on Wednesday. During his six-decade career, Abbas covered conflict in Vietnam, Biafra, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Chile, Cuba, and South Africa during apartheid, but he is perhaps best known for his arresting images of the Iranian Revolution from 1978 to 1980. It was at this time that Abbas grew fascinated with religious expression, and his reportage began to center on faith in turbulent times. In addition to Islam, he documented Christianity, animism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. “My relationship with God is professional,” he once remarked.   

Born Abbas Attar in 1944, the artist emigrated to Paris in 1971 and, after photographing with Sipa Press and then Gamma throughout the 1970s, joined Magnum Photos in 1981. Although his black-and-white images retained an empathetic introspection, he sought to capture a broader, connected narrative over instances of individual understanding. “When I photograph people, I’m not interested in the person but what they represent,” he said and described his practice as based in asking questions, not answering them.

Abbas published numerous photobooks and exhibited his work widely around the world, including at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, the Magnum Gallery in Paris, and the National Museum of Singapore. “He was a pillar of Magnum, a godfather for a generation of younger photojournalists,” said Magnum president Thomas Dworzak. “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.”

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