Throughout his career, Abbas has explored the rites and rituals of religions. Now, he turns his lens to exploring similar traditions within the political sphere in this personal visual and written account.
In the early eighties I followed obsessively the campaigns of French politicians. With my background as foreigner, an Iranian transplanted to France, and my knowledge of Africa, I soon realised that politicians follow certain rituals. I therefore decided to photograph them the way I would a Zulu tribe.
"Shaking the hand of a person, any person was the first ritual; each hand shaken has the potential of putting the politician’s name in the ballot box"
Shaking the hand of a person, any person was the first ritual; each hand shaken has the potential of putting the politician’s name in the ballot box. Plants and flowers decorating their rostrums enter into a dialogue with the politicians and seem to be part of another secret ritual. Visiting open markets, pretending to take an interest in the vegetables, the fruits and the meats on display is another ritual. But the highest order of liturgy was the sharing of food. This being France, a country of delicious, sensual food, no campaign trail could do without a sumptuous lunch or dinner.
"The new rituals are the selfies, which have somehow replaced the handshake"
I had these rituals in mind when I started photographing the campaign for the Presidential Elections of 2017. But I was soon to discover that all these rituals have disappeared. The new rituals are the selfies, which have somehow replaced the handshake; no politician dares not to accept a selfie, even if I can read on his face that he is bored doing so.
The other new ritual is the wall of cameras, most of them video, which precede every politician, observing his every move, recording his every phrase. I might have photographed the candidates with a caustic eye, I none-the-less have great respect for politicians: they do an impossible job. My camera is not politically neutral either: I hope that my likes and dislikes are apparent in my photos.
This story is part of The France Project: perspectives on the social, political and cultural landscape of contemporary France. In this ongoing project, initiated in 2016, Magnum photographers explore the background to issues influencing debate in the country in the run-up to the election. See more stories from this project here.