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Posted on: June 9, 2020

Iranian Artist Spotlight – Abbas Attar

Abbas Attar: Photographer

This black and white photo shows Abbas Attar holding a camera with his face covered but his eyes revealed.

Photojournalist Abbas Attar was born in southeastern Iran in 1944. When he was eight years old, he and his family moved to Algeria. His family’s resettlement coincided with the Algerian War of Independence. This anti-colonial movement against the French was largely defined by the Algerian desire to have the full rights of citizenship under a government created for and by its own people. It was during this time that Abbas Attar’s lens began to focus on political revolutions. When political unrest started to spread back home in the mid-1970s, Attar returned to Iran. The self-taught photographer documented the revolution with his camera, but was surprised by how his views changed as the war wore on.

This black and white photo taken by Abbas Attar shows protestors in Iran burning a photo of the Shah.
Tehran, Iran c. 1978
protestors burning photo of Reza Shah

Initially, Abbas Attar believed in the Iranian Revolution. He, like many Iranians, felt the effects of the Shah’s empty promises and was ready for a new regime that would better represent its people rather than its own political interests. Once Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile and began to consolidate power, however, Attar felt the original intentions of the revolution lost their way. His photos that once showed the Shah’s forces oppressing its people now reflected the violence of the Ayatollah’s executive branch. He continued to share his photographs despite pleas from his revolutionary friends. They did not want to expose the brutal underbelly of what started out as an idealistic movement. Abbas Attar responded by stating, “I am a journalist, which is a historian of the present, so I have to show these pictures now.”

This black and white photo taken by Abbas Attar shows a woman wearing a chadoor holding a military rifle while overseeing a demonstration.
Tehran, Iran c. 1979
militia woman controls a demonstration

Abbas Attar left Iran in 1980. He compiled his photos into his first publication La Révolution Confisquée (The Confiscated Revolution). This event fully cemented the theme of Attar’s work. His legacy exposes the actions that people and institutions take in the name of God. The exploration of this concept took him to places like Mexico, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and South Africa just to name a few. Throughout these travels he has published a long list of books. Some of them include Mexico, journeys beyond the mask (1992), Faces of Christianity, a photographic journey (2000), and In Whose Name? (2009).

This black and white photo taken by Abbas Attar shows a white South African general standing before organized rows of shirtless black men.
Hamanskraal, South Africa c. 1978
This black and white photo shows a woman in the aftermath of an IRA attack in Belfast. She is surrounded by men who are trying to help her.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
This black and white photo taken by Abbas Attar shows a soldier bowing his head at a tombstone in a cemetery in Sarajevo.
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina c. 1993

Attar passed away in Paris in 2018. He was 74 years old. When asked about his focus on religion, he said this “What I’m interested in is the political, social, economic, even psychological aspects of religion. More and more, nations are defining their identities referring to religion.” Abbas Attar’s images evoke as striking an impression today as they did when they were first taken. His theme is one that prevails despite the passing of the decades.