The other day I visited the Abbas exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore, which runs through the 18th September. This is a fairly large show covers the 45 year span of the Iranian photographer's career. It includes his earliest photographs from various warzones and area of unrest in the late 1960's and early 1970's, of which this remarkable photograph from Northern Ireland forms a part. My wife, looking at this photo remarked how lucky Abbas was to get this shot. “Well, that's a big part of it,” I admitted, “being in the wrong place at the right time.”
A wall crumbles, after a presumed act of arson by the Irish Republican Army. Belfast, United Kingdom, 1972.
Peppered throughout the exhibition were a few audio slideshows taken from Magnum in Motion, the most successful of which was the piece on Muhammed Ali and George Foreman's Rumble in the Jungle boxing match.
The majority of the exhibit, however, is given over to his work from around the globe focusing on various different expressions of religious practices, which are shown here in great variety. In fact, I was impressed at how wide ranging the scenes depicted were given the incredibly broad overarching themes. Couple this with his newsworthy photographs from the Iranian revolution of the late 1970's (which are juxtaposed here with more his recent images from Iran), a behind the scenes look at western high fashion and some personal shots of his family and you get taken on a a surprisingly coherent and revealing journey.
Cricket in a Buddhist monastery, Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka, 2009.
I am familiar with some of Abbas' more famous shots, but aside from his work on the Muslim faith I had not realised he had explored religion so extensively. One thing that struck me was how personal it all felt. The different expressions of faith here all seemed connected to each other, to make sense, as if they are all different facets of the same thing (which of course they are).
I got the sense that Abbas photographs because he is curious, because he wants to learn and explore and in presenting the work together in this exhibit he is asking us to just look, be open minded and curious ourselves. After all, it is these traits that lead to our systems of belief in the first place. That much at least we have in common.