Abbas took over nine trips to Mexico during the 1980s to capture a cultural landscape torn between ancient traditions and contemporary society
"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"
Born a photographer, Abbas was an Iranian transplanted to Paris. He dedicated himself to documenting the political and social life of societies in conflict. In a career that spanned six decades, he covered wars and revolutions in Biafra, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Middle East, Chile, Cuba, and South Africa during apartheid. He also documented life in Mexico over several years, and pursued a lifelong interest in religion and its intersection with society.
From 1978 to 1980, Abbas photographed the revolution in Iran, to which he returned 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.
During his years of exile Abbas traveled constantly. Between 1983 and 1986 he journeyed through Mexico, attempting to photograph a country as a novelist might write about it. The resulting exhibition and book, Return to Mexico: Journeys Beyond the Mask, helped define his photographic aesthetic.
From 1987 to 1994, he focused on the growth of Islamism throughout the world. Allah O Akbar: A Journey Through Militant Islam, the subsequent book and exhibition, spanning twenty-nine countries and four continents, attracted special attention after the 9/11 attacks by Islamic jihadists. A later book, Faces of Christianity: A Photographic Journey (2000), and touring show, explored Christianity as a political, ritual and spiritual phenomenon.
Abbas’s concern with religion led him in 2000 to begin a project on animism, in which he sought to discover why non-rational ritual had 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 are turning into political ideologies and therefore one of the sources of the strategic struggles of the contemporary world.
From 2008 to 2010 Abbas travelled the world of Buddhism, photographing with the same skeptical eye. In 2013, he concluded a similar long-term project on Hinduism.
Most recently before his death, Abbas was working on documenting Judaism around the world.
A member of Sipa from 1971 to 1973, then of Gamma from 1974 to 1980, Abbas joined Magnum Photos in 1981 and became a member in 1985.
Abbas died in Paris on April 25, 2018. He was 74.