Profoundly saddened to learn today of the passing of a huge influence and inspiration. Abbas.
Photography has done many great things for me. One thing, however, sort of stands above the others. It has let me know that I’m not alone in what I thought were my own peculiarities. In Return to Mexico, Abbas writes extensively of his experience and relates how much his time in Mexico, and his creative mood, is infected with the spirit of the great early photographer and Mexican Revolution era dissident Tina Modotti. He writes of her as if she is alive and one gets the feeling that she is all around him.
I’m not a believer, I don’t believe in the metaphysical world at all. But I believe in the creative imagination being taken over by muses and whims and things that move in the soft breezes that drag a dry leaf across the gravestone of a long dead creative fixation. Oh I believe in those things. But without encountering artists like Abbas who were generous enough to open up their thinking and show that being given to allowing oneself to entertain these zephyr-like inspirations was a normal aspect of the creative process, I might have thought I was just a little more nuts than I really am.
But then there’s the images. I don’t want to infringe on Magnum’s property but please, seek out the work of Abbas. He is a one of my favorites. I had already started making a series of my favorite photographers. The first that I’ve already finished that I’ll post here is on Ben Shahn. But Abbas was going to be the second. And now he’s passed. This is very sad news to me. And he died far too young.
Abbas was a compositional genius. His photos were modern, somewhat surreal, but he was an antidote to the overcooked surrealism that is so common today. Take away surrealist elements and National Geographic photography is very often something that looks like it was influenced by Abbas. But it is so derivative as to be banal in comparison. And National Geographic photography is great photography. That is where Abbas was as a photographer. Of his generation, Josef Koudelka was probably the last true ‘peer’ Abbas had and Koudelka died a number of years ago.
“He was a pillar of Magnum, a godfather for a generation of younger photojournalists. An Iranian transplanted to Paris, he was a citizen of the world he relentlessly documented; its wars, its disasters, its revolutions and upheavals, and its beliefs – all his life. 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.”