Obituary: Magnum Photographer Abbas, 74

April 25, 2018

By David Walker


Tehran, Iran, 1979. A woman, believed to be a supporter of the Shah, is mobbed by a revolutionary crowd. ©Abbas/Magnum

Magnum photographer Abbas died today in Paris at the age of 74, the photo agency reported on its website. The cause of death was not given.

Over a career spanning 50 years, Abbas covered conflict in Biafra, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Middle East, Chile, Cuba, and South Africa during apartheid, Magnum says. He also documented life in Mexico, and the subject of religion in society, which was one of his lifelong interests, the agency says.

“He was a pillar of Magnum, a godfather for a generation of younger photojournalists,” Magnum president Thomas Dworzak said in a tribute on the agency’s website. “He was a citizen of the world he relentlessly documented; its wars, its disasters, its revolutions and upheavals, and its beliefs—all his life.”

Born in Iran in 1944, Abbas began his career as a photojournalist in the late 1960s, and was a member of the French news photo agencies SIPA and Gamma during the 1970s. He covered the revolution in Iran from 1978 to 1980, then lived most of the rest of his life in self-exile in Paris. He joined Magnum in 1981 and became a full member in 1985.

Abbas published several books, including a personal interpretation of Iranian history titled Iran Diary 1971-2002; Return to Mexico: Journeys Beyond the Mask (1992), Allah O Akbar: A Journey Through Militant Islam (1994), and In Whose Name?: The Islamic World after 9/11 (2009).

Of his work about militant Islam, Abbas told the BBC: “Having covered the Iranian revolution for two years, I could see that the wave of religious passion raised by Khomeini in Iran was not going to stop at the border of Iran, it was going to spread in the Muslim world.”

Abbas subsequently explored other world religions. He published Faces of Christianity: A Photographic Journey (2000) and Gods I’ve Seen (2016), a book about Hinduism. At the time of his death he had been working on a project about Judaism.