Haunted by the picture of an innocent young Cambodian girl destined to die in Tuol Sleng known as S21 in Phnom Penh, Abba travelled during three years through the Asian continent in the hope of finding an answer to his quest: “How could a society which has been Buddhist for centuries, and presumably compassionate, accept the massacre or the starvation of one fourth of its population, a terrible auto-genocide?”
From this long journey came his latest book “Les enfants du Lotus” published by Les Editions de la Martinière. The 288 pages bring together mostly black and white pictures and some unexpected colour pictures. On Magnum Motion, he said “But with Buddhism, colour was a challenge, I couldn’t not resist”. Here is maybe the answer to the quest for a photographer who has been capturing our world only in black and white for most of his life.
Looking through the 190 images on Magnum website, Abba photographed scenes of monks in their everyday life, worshipping, making pilgrimages, learning, begging, or simply doing some house work. Some wonderful fully textured photographs show great details of temples like Wat MAHATAT, Buddha head embedded in a tree in Ayuthaya, Thailand or the beautiful ancient stone sculptures in the DAITOKU-JI Buddhist temple complex in Kyoto, Japan.
One of the first photographs to catch my attention was a novicita ritual for young boys in Sin Lui village, Myanmar. I like both the ability of Abbas to capture this dusty and spiritual scene through a beautiful light and the idea of boys with unlit cigarettes in their mouth to signify that they are adults now. In western countries, for many children and teenagers smoking their first cigarette, the meaning is in some way exactly the same but without religious meaning.
I was fascinated by the beauty of a young Buddhist nun of the Hamayana sect on a pilgrimage in the temple at Tay Ninh, Vietnam. So much innocence and purity in her face. The look of the woman on her right is very much stronger. I would have liked to see more of her but I find the framing very good.
Spiritually speaking, Asian people have a stronger relationship with their natural environment. A thing that western culture lacks except in very special places of pilgrimage. This is probably why I like the gesture of monks performing a naga pooja, a ritual to appease the spirits of the stream which runs in the mountains above the city of Dharamsala in Himashal Pradesh State, India.
There are many others beautiful moments In Abba’s journey through his 12 country journey in the Buddhist culture. I recommend visiting the dedicated gallery on Magnum website and watching his essay in Magnum in Motion.