Aperture Magazine

The magazine of photography and ideas

Abbas (1944–2018)

Aperture remembers the legendary photographer.

 - April 26, 2018

A. Abbas, Children bathe and play in the Rio Balsas, Village of San Augustin de Oapan, Mexico, 1985
© the artist/Magnum Photos

Abbas’s practice as a photographer was forged on the frontlines of war and revolution during the 1970s, when he was working as part of the Sipa and Gamma news picture agencies, which were then at the peak of their influence and economic power. After ten years as one of the most successful agency photographers of his generation, Abbas sought the kind of independence and scope for visual authorship that Magnum could offer. Master of the picture story format, he made tight, singular, and particularly useful icons of conflict and society that made his pictures among the most reproduced of the Magnum group during the 1990s. He simultaneously pursued his own visual poetry, particularly in Mexico, and drew on his experience of war to pursue a comprehensive documentary account of the world’s religions over thirty years. Take any single picture or story from this major work, and one assumes Abbas both detached and neutral. But take the body of work as a whole, and one sees Abbas treat religious fury not only as one of the great themes of our time, loaded with visual opportunity, but instead as cause for much of the world’s suffering. Abbas was larger than life, a unique character among Magnum’s larger-than-life roster. One of its leaders, one pictures him at Magnum meetings stroking his beard, gravely, while pondering the path ahead. Photography will miss him.