_so honored / eugen berlo


Award winning photographer / graphic designer Renay Elle Morris, and my associate and editor of Arstler.com has won the cover image with “Eye to eye /window to the soul” of the Fall 2021 edition of the ANIMA MUNI ACADEMIA Art Magazine. Zita Vilutyle, is the Curator and Art Director of the 72 page publication. This, first issue of the magazine features a motif of artistic and  poetic symmetry that includes interviews, observations, intentions, and the signatures of a collective group of international individuals with a dedication to create visual images in various mediums. Each study offers and reflects themes that explore our global community which is enhanced by the flow of the editorial perspective in synergy with its amazing graphic concept_ inviting one to view a  grand scale presentation.

“Artists create and materialize their ideas in a variety of ways; bringing together different fields, talking not only about art, but also about real life…”     

                                                                                                    _Zita Vilutyte, Anima Mundi Academia 

Interviews + profiles

Renay Elle Morris_ USA
Jacob Berghoef_ Netherlands
Aina Putnina_ Latvia
Dolores Mephistopheles_ Germany
Nata Buachidze_ Georgia

Commentaries_ Jurgis Dieliauta, Anima Mundi Academia

Kornel Jus Užuotas_ Lithuania
Auguste Santckytke_ Lithuania

Collections_ a view

Evaldas Rimšelis_ Lithuania
Cetin Erokay_ Turkey
Elmira Shokr Pour_ Iran
Aleko Lomadze_ Georgia

Conceptual Art                                                                                                                                    

Mike Petrakis_ Greece

The Dorado Gallery_ Japan

A Closer Look / Mission and Artists    


For further information on the organization +

the 2022 International Anima Mundi

Art Award Competition

Contact: iaf.animamundi@gmail.com 

_ behind the lens / the alluring nature of photographer julio muñoz and his native cuba_ 2020

30 November 2020_ New York USA

/ Renay Elle Morris


photo / renay elle morris

_a wandering spirit finds solace through a lens in a global passage.

There I was on an island, most misunderstood and frozen in time. During my two weeks in Cuba, I spent days combing the narrow and curious labyrinths of cities filled with pastel shaded residences, silent ladies and gents dangling cigarettes from mouths_ peering through broken windows while children played in streets well past bedtimes. I delighted in these brief moments as I, too, peered into ground floor dwellings and caught glimpses of family gatherings around old TV’s. There were the bucolic landscapes of Vińales and its small wooden houses with porches, tobacco fields, and tour stops selling the questionable aromatics of cigars, amid pastoral settings that invited me into mysterious caves. Not to forget, the intoxicating seas that bathed tan bodies while kissing the shorelines of the whitest of sand. And, of course, I relished my strolls along Havana’s Malecón_ the delightful promenade and seawall where gatherings and Caribbean songs thrive.

Everywhere I ventured, I was reminded of the undercurrent of unresolved conflicts and economic woes which still hold generations captive. Yet, I was greeted with smiles and warmth wherever I danced, as the island’s playful and sensual music led me beat after beat. It was all beautiful.

My journey included a 4-hour drive from Havana to Trinidad de Cuba_ a long stretch of solitude through a maze of bumpy roads and interior outposts to the island’s south-central region. Thirst needed to be quenched, so quick road stops were made. The signs posted for Trinidad, the Unesco designated city (1988), were increasing and, once again, I was delighted to start another adventure_ one that included the Plaza Mayor and the Casa de la Musica, where evening draws locals and tourists alike to the pulsating rhythm of salsa bands.

After a quick drop off and check in at the private homestay of choice, I managed a few localities while I steadied myself from the unevenness of massive stones filling the terrain. It was grand to observe the landscape of  Trinidad_ different and slower than Havana, yet the same reminders_  local color offerings; coffee stops, ‘50s convertibles tending to the demands of tourists competing alongside my fav_ odd bicycles with seating for 3 speeding by. It wasn’t long before it was time to close the book on the excursion for the day to seek much needed shade. With a bit of help, I found my way back to Casa Muñoz, which was my vacation stay in Trinidad de Cuba.

_mi casa es su casa.  

Delighted to melt into comfort from the great heat that sweated equally across my body, I soon was ensconced in a wonderfully charming and venerable mansion. Señor Julio Muñoz entered the great room. After light conversations and a short history of how he and his wife Rosa had created this stunning casa particular (a home licensed for a tourists’ stay), Muñoz, a native son of Cuba, noted his linage included generations of prominent Spanish immigrants. I wandered around and admired the old-world furnishings_ a mixture of beautiful colonial and baroque styles, filled with delicate antique curios as carefully placed accents. Featured in National Geographic magazine, this casa particular’s charm is wildly touted as “one of the best places for the foreign traveler.” It was enchanting and cozy_ even with spacious parlors, grand lounges, and inviting patios. Nearby, one can also enjoy the specialties at Muñoz Tapas_ a lovely eatery with a variety of platters and drinks_ Cuban and international flavors, to be savored along with incredible views from the rooftop dining.

The sun on that February day had no boundaries, casting slivers of light through casements on other visitors who slipped in from guidebook itineraries to find relaxation in Casa Muñoz. We compared notes. Some had signed up for activities that Muñoz organized, which included escorted and detailed itineraries_ designed to entice the visitor with a multitude of excursions and day trips, Others meandered and were gratified with museum visits, flea markets or café settings featuring eclectic architectural styles along with a Cubanito_ a rum bloody mary. 

_there was a slight breeze. it was splendid.

Señor Muñoz’s appeal was evident. As we listened to the novel ideas of his ventures, we learned of his notable successes which have caught the ear of Cuban as well as foreign dignitaries, and visits and interviews from journalists_ U.S. to Australia. Listening intently, I note that his character and resolve is ever present, seeking opportunities wherever and whenever. Like many Cubans growing up after the 1959 revolution, he was forced to reinvent himself_ quite necessary in the changing and challenging Cuban economic landscape. Trained as an electrical engineer, he found passion in the raising of horses. A horse-whisperer_ one phrase that suited him well. “Reinvention is key,” he explained. It was his credo, and it served him_ as each venture bore the fruits of his labor. 

_cowboy shooter of trinidad de cuba. 

The love of the photographic medium fascinated Muñoz since childhood, so the genre of Street Photography in Trinidad was a natural direction and creative outlet for him. This form of photography, also known as candid photography is so applicable, since it is the essence of the social and cultural lifestyle of Cubans. One is drawn into the daily life and into the unmediated chance encounters and random incidents occurring.
“I knew photography was something I was interested in, but getting hold of a camera in Cuba is not easy,” he sighed. Muñoz continued and explained how his ability to recognize a greater vision_ one that included seeing something that few other people in Cuba had considered, was the potential for photographs to connect with an overseas audience hungry for nostalgic images from a place so isolated. “I got great money for the first photos I sold to National Geographic Travel magazine. It helped pay for this lens.” The rest is history.

The American literary artist Susan Sontag wrote, “the photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque. The street photographer can be seen as an extension of the flâneur, an observer of the streets. This is Julio Muñoz’s oeuvre. 


I have noted in text before, that I always believe the immersion in faraway spaces offers a multitude of creative possibilities. The opposite of what is familiar nourishes primal curiosity. It is these ethereal adventures that feed the soul and survive through imaginative devices. Compelling imagery and the birth of self-expression emerge in the mind’s eye through the arts_ literature, music, painting, and photography, as well language, cultural exploration and customs. Creativity allows for descriptive prose, storytelling, and visual landscapes that may or may not be understood by the viewer, yet are still captivating when discovered. Creativity is poised and ever-present, complete with different sounds and shapes_ odd and uneasy at times_ revealed in glorious notes, phrases, and cast on a multitude of surfaces as artistic expression.
Muñoz’s immersion in the arts is evident_ identified as the creative cowboy_ the “John Wayne” of photography. It defines his style. His approach is fast, as he shoots from the hip. Very western, no doubt. And I see a man who is comfortable, easygoing and self-assured.

_ resources.

“Minutes in Cuba”: Trinidad Street Photography_ www.farflungtravels.com (tag Julio Muñoz) follows Muñoz on his hunt as he reiterates his mantra_ “Anticipation. Anticipation”_ another secret to those who take his tours. And, here again, his John Wayne mode is always ready for the quick! “We are hunting right now. I predict the path my subject will take, then I focus on the ground where I want him. I put down the camera and don’t put it back up to my eyes until the last moment.”

Ah, what better way to learn than to delve into Muñoz’s summarization of “Trick and Techniques to Achieve Better Street Photography”_ comprehensive pages of information that cover a multitude of subjects, and a gift for everyone who signs on for the photography tours/workshops. It is a checklist to ensure that one understands the nature of street photography and begins with a consideration of facts. They include the reasons behind settings, subject movements, and the nature of street photography, and its ability to capture reality. His guidance continues with advice on cameras and lenses, camera settings, as well as a list of steps to follow for capture.

_ on a final note muñoz adds.

“A significant part of street photography is enjoying the act of taking photo, feeling the adrenaline, the challenge; developing an eagle eye to discover from a distance the good shot. You are hunting_ but with a camera instead of a rifle. If you feel this joy, it is because you are on the way to getting good photos.”

_ for further information and details on tours, lectures, photo workshops, and a wonderful stay:

My suggestion: reserve early to access the best of Trinidad.
Casa Muñoz / Calle Jose Marti, #401 Trinidad, St. Spiritus, Cuba
Email: trinidadjulio@yahoo.com
Phone: +53 41993673
trinidadphoto.com /munoztapas.com
 _on Instagram

_ muchas gracias señor muñoz, hasta la próxima vez.

The opportunity to speak with Julio was fortuitous. So, thank you Señor Muñoz for sharing. As a photographer, as well, images are our documents_ perhaps our notes on a journey. They are moments in time and preserved in digital capture. I treasure them, as for the days when I forget the details of my life. _ Renay Elle Morris

* all street photos_ julio muñoz
julio muñoz, the horse whisperer_ photo / maria muñoz 


flying solo_ the magical paintings of savina capecci / renay elle morris

21 September 2020_ New York

an exhibition and commentary on the paintings of Savina Capecci 

“Human figures are always the protagonists of the most recent paintings by Savina Capecci.”    

_ Curator Fulvio Dell’Agnese

The Alchemists’ Garden_ oil and acrylic on canvas 120×100 cm, 2020


Dell’Agnese continues_ 

“Most of the time they are people like her, like us: girls with handbags on their shoulder, girls walking (Total eclipse of the mind) or girls curled up in an armchair, without fear of spoiling their beautiful red dress (What if we were the ocean and not the waves). Around these girls, however, the situation slips out of the control of our gaze and takes them away from the normality of a daily scene; a spongy moon hangs in the dark, and the ground floats among a fertile blooming of pinwheels that rest in unknown depths with their fragile supports, tall and thin as the foundations of Zenobia.
Even elsewhere, where some harmless stools, a forgotten shoe, or an electric cable in search of
socket seem to reassure us about the quiet normality of the space inhabited by the characters (The Alchemists’ Garden), what creates a margin of ambiguity is the hint of  the illusory splitting of the draped protagonist, a draping that, instead of defining her volumes, make them enigmatic.
 Then, even the flowery fantasy of the fabric is not immune from the doubt of a transmutation, and its swarming green – which opens up to welcome the modern symbols of a possible contamination – skims the dark dimension of the mater tellus.
It is therefore implied the sensation that a fundamental imbalance animates the lives of these characters and its veiled relationship with the world of nature, as it already happened in the previous series The transgenic attack, some pieces of which are displayed in this exhibition. For the Alchemists it is the ever-evolving horizon purposefully sought-after, or anyway assimilated into the awareness of its implications of instability, while other characters seem to undergo it without fully understanding the process of hybridization affecting them, and its ability to redefine their connotations (Transgenic awakening).
Is it threat or a promise? It makes people wonder, when the latent discomfort envelops figures in which only the anatomical appearance of a mannequin remains human, immersed in a silence that disturbs as it springs from the impossibility of expressing oneself (The noisy silence of the untold). Evoked by a painting that alternates large fields of colour and clear lines to the spatiality of insisted textures, these acephalous or split in half simulacra become also metaphors of our social existence; in pairs or in groups (Total sale), they seem to measure the distance between the rituals of consumerism, and the authenticity of  an experience made not to be instantly “posted” but concretely lived, in the pleasant murmur of the things that move and of our time, left free to pass.

Imperfect like pure Amber_ oil on canvas, 135×80 cm, 2017 

Continue reading

Predictable Constructs _First Solo Show by Genu Berlo

Introduction by Renay Elle Morris with additional commentary by art historian Marius Tănăsescu.

After a healthy career in NYC, with family in tow, Genu Berlo moved back to his native Romania to rediscover its treasures and give his children a taste of what he had missed_ the wonders of his youth. Equipped with solid skills of art, design, and architecture he settled his family in Bucharest.

As of recent, Berlo and wife and business partner, Elena use their entrepreneurial spirit and technologically advanced skills to for the development of social and artistic internet platforms, while never losing sight of their studies in fine art and architecture. The creation of ARSTLER_ an online resource and presentation arena for exhibiting artists and gallery conversations maintains a slant to invite and interview emerging artists. OnceUponaPaper, is a worldwide destination for consumers and organizations desiring splendid tailor-made ketubah and ceremonial announcements. Even as business calls, they are ever present in the artistic community keeping active in gallery settings along with a host of creative endeavors_ offline!

Having worked together in NYC, Berlo asked me to jump aboard and collaborate with him on Arstler. It has been a fruitful and rewarding experience. So, at this juncture, I applaud Berlo with a commentary on his first solo show_ Predictable Constructs on view at Atelier030202 Galleryuntil 10 November of this year in Bucharest. (See gallery website for details.)

Speaking with Berlo, he tells me “…his vision of the work relates the identity and mind.” And he express his …”affinity for line and structure.” Given these insights, and leaving no doubt, I study the two completely different mediums on display and immediately ascertain that he is propelled by his studies in architecture as well as a certain curiosity in the humanities.

The gallerist, Mihai Zgondoiu is featuring 20 works_ a mixture of oil paintings and sculptures of wood, metal and paper. As I observe the structures, it is evident that they have a sense of something rural and utilitarian_ perhaps in its simplistic form, naive, even primitive, as they are barren, colorless and are “obvious of what is just necessary.” When paired with the oil paintings, it is a splendid display_well balanced and fascinating. Of course this is intentional, and the duality of Berlo’s nature is evident. As linear are his constructs, the oils are organic, colorful, moving and craving to be born. Thus perhaps even biological. Is this a study of the evolution of the human form paired with the tools necessary to maintain and perpetuate life? This study, as I see it, is brilliant, cohesive, and deeply reflective of how all things living and non may be related.

“Genu Berlo is processing constructs which underlying foundation is not the intuition per se; he quite actually relegate the latest to a secondary layer, staying on the lookout, being afraid that this intuition could interfere with his personal unpredictable “primitivism.” Furthermore, this “primitivism” is more of a mental nature rather than tribal, finding its expression in the sort of “postmodern conceptual artefacts” of land art type (see the sculpture-installation), and in a kind of syncretism beyond currents and times, combining the Lascaux cave painting virtues with a Nolde or Kirchner’s expressionistic ability.” _Marius Tănăsescu

Contact info: Atelier030202 or mihaizgondoiu@yahoo.com


_ solo exhibition renay elle morris, photographer_ a life reimagined

renay elle morris, photographer_ a life reimagined.  Part 11 / Sojourn.  / kaunas, lithuania 06 sept-06 oct 2019

Dedicated to the memory of my beloved sister Pamela M. Bernard.


    punjabi man_ amristar, india  / a wandering spirit finds solace through a lens in a global passage.

“I want my images to transport the viewer to places real or imaged_ to be swept away.”_ Renay Elle Morris


A bit of heavenly life fills a space confined only by a limited imagination.

 As I traverse the labyrinth of my life I have challenged that which has become secure and perhaps too reasonable. I long for which may be the unevenness of trails, missteps, steep climbs and murky waters. A life reimagined is one that seeks exploration and identifies what needs to be changed. For me, it is historical study combined with aesthetic designs, and who, what, and where in this labyrinth it found a place of creative intent.

Oh destiny of Borges,

to have sailed across the diverse seas of the world,

or across that single and solitary sea of diverse names,

to have been a part of Edinburgh, of Zurich, of the two Cordobas….

to have wandered through the red and tranquil labyrinth of London……”_  Jorge Luis Borges, writer

 I have always believed that immersion in faraway spaces offers a multitude of creative possibilities. The opposite of what is familiar nourishes primal curiosity. It is these ethereal adventures that feed the soul and survive through imaginative devices. Compelling imagery and the birth of self-expression

emerge in the mind’s eye through the arts_ literature, music, painting, and photography as well language, cultural exploration and customs. Creativity allows for descriptive prose, storytelling, and visual landscapes that may or may not be understood by the viewer, yet are still captivating when discovered. Creativity is poised and ever-present, complete with different sounds and shapes_ odd and uneasy at times_ revealed in glorious notes, phrases, and cast on a multitude of surfaces as artistic expression.

My work in photography is revealed by the memories of distinctive creatures and their surroundings. Most are of a world that is foreign to me. The ability to connect with what is different creates an intimacy of epic proportions. These interactions are not taken for granted as they compel me to document as intriguing, not intrusive. Traveling up the Ucayali River from the banks of Iquitos, and encounters with indigenous communities ofthe Peruvian Amazon, dust-laden Petra’s antiquity uncovered in magical remains, the vessels in ocean filled with stories and secrets of ships lost at sea, or to reach the city at the end of the earth_ Ushuaia is what captures my soul. My odyssey_ perhaps, at times quixotic, is what I choose to share in my work. It is central to who I am.

A composition of artistic endeavors and hero worship.

As a fine art photographer, I have many heroes. Some perhaps with majestic kingdoms looming over embattled lands voicing thunderous commands, but most are ordinary people who live simple and unquestioned lives.

In New York City, where I live, I often attend recitals and symphonies. Recently, while listening to the music of Finnish composer and conductor, Essa-Pekka Salonen’s “Cello Concerto,” I felt its newness_ its grand mellifluousmovements. It was a masterful production, not predictable by any means with superb orchestral arrangements rooted in classical tradition, yet fashioned for the 21stcentury. He is a contemporary hero. Klimt, Stravinsky, Mahler, Puccini, Rembrandt, Borges, Rothko, and the 20thcentury painter Francis Bacon have greatly influenced me, as well as those arresting and willing heroes of every day life, those without notoriety or fanfare.

What would it take for you to point your compass to a place infused with unfamiliar touches_ one with gifts of nature, set so perfectly and divine, ready to catch a glimmer of its detail_ complete with pale gold or champagne and metallic hues, tints, and tones and shades of vivid colors screaming or contrasts in black and white?

My images are the documents: my notes on a journey. Moments in time and preserved in digital capture. I treasure them, as for the days when I forget the details of my life. And, as I have been inspired, I hope these melodies I capture will inspire. So to all those who participated; danced, composed, photographed and painted across the lens of my life, I thank you.

…if the image is going to be worth making it all, you see, it has to unlock sensation at a deeper level, it has to go in at an instinctive level.”_ Francis Bacon*

/Renay Elle Morris

*Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in Your Blood (Bloomsbury, 2015). p.146.



“No standART”_ an exhibition. By Eugen Berlo

As founder and publisher of Arstler, the web-based fine and applied art magazine,I am proud to share that Renay Elle Morris, our editor of photographic and fine art development, is a participant in the 1st International Contemporary Women’s Art Biennale 2018_“No standArt” to be held at the Gelgaudiskis Manor in Lithuania from 12 October – 30 November. This exhibition, follows the success of The APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale in Malta in November of 2017, where Renay received a Grant for her photographic works based on the theme, The Mediterranean: A Sea of Conflicting Spiritualties.”

The 2018 event is organized and produced by The International Association & Foundation Anima Mundi together with associated partners VSI Holistinis Judejimo Teatras “S”and VSI “Gabrieles Meno Galerija” along with the Gelgaudiskis Manor and Gallery “Aukso Pjuvis.” The exhibition is under the artistic direction of Zita Vilutytė, founder and director of IAF Anima Mundi and an international committee presiding over the events and activities offered during the exhibition. IAF Anima Mundi maintains a platform honoring the idea of a better world through Cuture, Art, Science, and Education. Participation and membership details are listed on their website / iaf-animamundi.com.

“No standART,” will be presented in The Gelgaudiskis Manor, a neoclassical building as well as a national monument detailing an impressive history dating back to the 16thcentury. The exhibition is designed to showcase “storytelling” by women artists, inspired by the words of Marmon Leslie Silko’s personal story disclosed in her poem, “Ceremony.” It is an opportunity for artists in this exhibition to reveal their stories_ voiced in various artistic mediums.

“It is a great honor be a participant in this 1stWomen’s Art Biennale an to have my ideas and my story realized in the photographic medium. I want to thank all the directors and organizers for this recognition. As the only American artist in this exhibition, it is truly a great privilege to be in the company of a distinquished group of creative individuals chosen from multiple destinations around the globe.

The theme of the presentation, My Story, required great thought, and deep introspection. It led me to create work of a very private and personal nature, as well as to the discovery of the richness of knowing and acceptance of one’s being, which, I now treasure.”_ Renay Elle Morris

_my story / “self portrait”

_my story / “trust”


“_my story” _____________________

 what am I saying

to you about me?

two faces. 

gemini. janus.

maybe more.

i can’t be copied.

 easy does it here. 

don’t provoke. 

as I am intense.

dark and mysterious.

ethereal in nature.

i venture.

to what is exotic. 

otherworldly as evident.

immersed in antiquity.

ensconced in modernity.

blending visually into the two.

i can’t be copied.

 can’t be defined as one.

can you?

layer on layer I am. 

one face to another. 

one idea to another.

of whom I want to be. 

i can’t be copied.

can you?

_ renay elle morris

contact information_
Facebook: www.facebook.com/anima.mundi.735

_about face

Valera Cherkashin_ a portrait. Chosen for the advertising campaign of FACE: 2.0_ an exhibition / Yekaterinburg, Russia

Having premiered in 2012 at XVII Encuentros Abiertos _ Festival De La Luz, Buenos Aires, Argentina, this compelling portrait of Valera Cherkashin, created by the artistic team (husband and wife) Natasha and Valera Cherkashin and noted above, is from the original series, entitled: “Vibrations,” created in 2011. www.cherkashinart.com/vibrations  After this successful presentation, a selection of images were chosen to be exhibited in 3 prominent Russian museum expositions known at FACE, which was on display from 2010 to 2015.

Now, in 2018, on view from 11 August – 02 September, and produced by the Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Art, a new version of FACE, entitled, FACE: 2.0 will take place in Yekaterinburg, Russia, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Continuing on with this theme, the Cherkashins, in concert with curator Andrey Martynov, along with the intense interest noted from a wide audience, has led to a revised collection_ a second incarnation. In addition, the Cherkashin’s have been invited to present a lecture sharing thoughts and ideas as well as introducing their own work on the subject of faces. Participants for FACE: 2.0 are a select group of international artists from Russia, the USA, Germany, Canada, Finland, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, and Japan.




_in memoriam /abbas 1944 – 2018

© Reprinted from 08 April 1999 / Picture magazine_ Abbas. A State of Grace  / Renay Elle Morris

From the country of a thousand and one nights, one journalist’s ambitious reportage covering twenty nine countries in four continents.

It was the brilliance of Allah O Akbar: A Journey Through Militant Islam (Phaidon 1994) that took my breath away. Its author, Abbas, has been described as one of the few photographers “who can raise photojournalism to an art form.” I met Abbas one rainy March afternoon in Magnum Photo’s Paris bureau. We spoke briefly; he was guarded and I was somewhat intimidated. I sipped black coffee while he questioned me, thinking that you’d have to be an armadillo to engage him in conversation–his dark piercing eyes, almost blinding if you are in his line of vision. Then in an instant, relief. He flashes a smile, and everything softens, a gentler Abbas appears. He cracks a joke, something about a journalist, a paparazzi, a tiger and a rat. I take in the humor, albeit dry and biting, but humor, nonetheless.

_I have to improve my tactics so that every villager is flattered at being photographed.

While Abbas is carefully scrutinizing images for his new book on Christianity, I am making notes for a possible interview at a later date. This proved not to be an easy task, with countless phone calls to Paris and London from New York. Laughing, he accused me of harassment. “Not at all,” I said, explaining that he was so illusive–moving quickly, ever so quickly. True, he was not an easy target, but then he was a master of that game having been trained so well in the killing fields of the third world. To Abbas, there is no time to waste. He is as fleeting as the images he seeks to document. I asked him, “Who is Abbas, really?” To which he replied, modestly, “Just a photographer.” Too simple an answer for me. No, he’s not just a photographer. He is a journalist who has covered major political and social events–Biafra, Bangladesh, Vietnam, South Africa, The Middle East. A journalist who, in 1987, made an ambitious study–a seven year project photographing the resurgence of Islam throughout the world with some of the most chilling and haunting essays ever recorded and captured in Iran: La Revolution Confisquee (Editions Cletrat 1980) and Return To Mexico-Journey’s Beyond the Mask (Norton, 1992), photographs of the same intensity and consistency. Images that dare to speak to us of outrage and courage. Images of fear, of war, of burdens so heavy they are almost unbearable to look at. A journalist who wears sensible shoes, who plays the game–moving and shooting his subjects with such fervor that at the end of the day, there is nothing left but to succumb to exhaustion.

_My relationship with God is purely professional.

That is the brilliance of Abbas. He is a man of contradictions who cites Rembrandt as a mentor, walks the paths of great novelists and chronicles his photographs with pages and pages of poetic script so compelling they breath a life of their own.

Renay Morris: You are revered by your colleagues, to some you are considered a hero. Who is Abbas and do you believe in heroes?

Abbas: (Laughing.)  I am simply a photographer. C’est tout. Be careful, heroes are something else. I can’t talk about heroes, but I can talk about the people that influenced me as a photographer. Rembrandt. I learned a lot from Rembrandt. And from Velazquez.

RM: From painters more so than photographers?

Abbas: Oh yes, much more. I was visiting a museum in Amsterdam, and room after room I saw portraits of the bourgeois–the well-to-do people of Amsterdam by Rembrandt and other painters as well. I was struck by how Rembrandt did not just freeze his characters like other painters, he suspended them. Freezing means you stop them in their action. They are literally posing. Suspending means that after you have photographed or painted your subjects they keep on doing what they were doing before. When I started in 1970 I realized that this was exactly what I was doing­ or what I was trying to do–not to freeze people in my photos, but to suspend them. What I learned from Velazquez was his amazing composition, his sense of proportion and the way he uses light.

RM: Your subject matter is very dark–a mass of darkness. No smiles, it’s all very macabre.

Abbas: You are asking me to explain my work. It is hard for a photographer to critique his own work. It is for critics to tell me what is there. Perhaps this intensity has something do with my background as an Iranian. I am, of course, the product of my culture–my education, my past. I left Iran as a small boy, but I went back for the revolution which I covered for two years. This was a very intense time because I was not only a photographer, but I was an involved photographer. You see, when I go to Zaire or I go to Vietnam or Cuba, I am concerned, but not involved. Iran was my country, my people, and my revolution–in the beginning at least. Therefore, photography wasn’t just recording other people’s lives, it was also recording my own life or my own wishes.

_When I am working I am not in a normal state, I am in a state of grace.

RM: The little Mexican boy before his funeral…the prostitute’s cadaver…you’re tough. Photo after photo of death and violence and suffering. In Allah o Akbar you start out with death and you end with death. You write: “Will violence always hold a fascination for me.”

Abbas: I’m glad you mentioned that. Death is part of life. Perhaps, because of my background and the life I led in Iran and Mexico, there is all sorts of reasons I have this fascination with death and violence. Death is eternity. Violence is life. In 1997, after 17 years I went back to Iran. I remember a time when I was literally in the middle of this crowd of Iranians celebrating the martyrdom of Hassan and Hussein–the prophet’s grandsons. They were beating their chests and singing at the same time–the songs of mourning. Suddenly, I was taken by the whole mood of the situation. I was no longer an observer. Whether I liked it or not, it was part of my culture and I became acutely aware of the fact that I was heir to 3,000 years of this culture-a culture with violent rituals.

RM: And the religious imagery that appears in the majority of your work…

Abbas: My relationship with God is purely professional. After photographing all these years I don’t understand why people believe, so I am still fascinated by religion.

RM: And the contractions. The surprise element, a non-violent Abbas photo or phrase…like when you refer to the beauty of the flowers and the Rose of Kabul.

Abbas: Every man is a contradiction. I hope you are a contradiction yourself. Again, this all so subjective. When I look at my contact sheets I see contractions I don’t see when I am shooting, because shooting is very intuitive and editing is intellectual. There are many levels of contractions; like the two women on the beach in Morocco–one in a bikini , one covered in traditional dress. That is a simple one. There are other levels of contractions and complexity. I seek that. I think that photography is not just recording an event. For me it is also interpreting an event and giving you feeling about this event.

RM: You write: “One of the best way to get to know a country or a place is always through its novelists.”

Abbas: That’s true. That’s what I normally do when I am travelling. I read the heavy stuff beforehand; the sociology, the economics, the politics. Then I find English or French books by the prominent writers of that particular country I am exploring. They guide me. Actually, very much so, because maybe in a way this is what I’m trying to do as a photographer. Photography means writing with light. That is exactly what I do–write with light. Like a someone who uses the written word to capture a subject, I don’t only work on a subject, I work around a subject…beyond the subject. Working four years on Christianity and seven years on Islam and three years on Mexico–this is not the normal lifestyle of a photojournalist. It’s more like that of the writer. Also, I always keep a diary and parts of this diary go with my pictures in my books. I try not to write about my photographs, but write about the environment in which I took the photographs.

_Iran was my country, my people, and my revolution–at the beginning at least. Therefore, photography wasn’t just recording other people’s lives, it was also recording my own life or my own wishes.

RM: The Hadj–the pilgrimage to Mecca. How difficult was that to photograph?

Abbas: It took me five years and one war to actually get the visa. The Saudis did not make the life of the photographer easy, but I managed to get the photos I wanted. I had to go there three times. Each time I was not happy with the situation so I kept going until I got what I wanted. I am as demanding of myself as I am of others. RM: So much so that you may resort to trickery to get your pictures. In Return to Mexico, I quote you: “I have to improve my tactics so that every villager is flattered at being photographed.” Do subjects need to be seduced?

Abbas: When a photographer goes to a situation like in this Mexican village, he is not innocent. He carries a whole other culture on his back. Whether he likes it or not he represents the Western world–the gringo. Although I’m not American to their eyes I was a gringo journalist. So there was no reason for them to be kind to me. I had to seduce them with a lot of polaroids at the beginning. I took their pictures and gave the photos to them. I sort of became the official photographer of the village. After a while they started asking me to photograph their festivals and give them prints It was not easy, it was very confrontational.

RM: How do you handle criticism?

Abbas: Well, there is not enough of it.

RM: Not enough of it?

Abbas: That’s right I wish I would get more.

RM: Tell me about the Christianity book­–your new project. What compelled you to do it?

Abbas: It is set for a publication release in the Spring of 2000. I just finished shooting the photography and I am now in the process of editing the work. I’ve done the basic work in my head. It’s just a question of putting it to form. I started Islam because it was, in a way, natural for me to do it. After following the revolution of Iran, it was normal for me to not only look at the revolution but also the ways this revolution was affecting the world. When I was finishing my project on Islam, I was thinking about what I was going to do next. I decided to stay with God, but then just change prophets. Because, when you look at Christianity or religion in general, it is a just a way to look into our societies. Religion is just the pretext. Religion is just not faith, it is culture, it is economy…it is many things. I hope to make it similar to the book on Islam.

RM: Your books are always in black and white. How do you feel about the use of color.

Abbas: My expression is in black and white for a very simple reason. Because I see in black and white. When I am working I am not in a normal state, I am in a state of grace. I automatically convert yellows greens and browns into shades of grey blacks and white. But I have to cover the color stories wanted by international magazines. It is not easy to accept the assignments and remain master of my time.

RM: How has your work changed over the years. Abbas: I’m the same photographer, but with more maturity now. Your asking me to judge my photography again?

RM: Yes I am.

Abbas: The difference is I know exactly what I want now. When you start out, it is normal to experiment. But after 30 years I am not experimenting that much. I don’t like to shift different styles or different interests. My work is pretty consistent. My signature, my style is recognizable.

RM: I understand you have an up-coming exhibition.

Abbas: Yes, I am having an exhibition in Brussels. This is my first one. I was supposed to have an exhibition before on the book on Islam. But, because of the whole controversy and sensitive nature of the work, people were afraid to show my work on wars. The exhibit is from April 22 – June 22 at the Chapel of Charles The Fifth. Can you imagine that…an exhibition on Islam in a Chapel?

RM: Is that another contradiction? So, at the end of the day, do you think that it might be said that you persist until you prevail? A serious pause ensues.

Abbas: Perhaps, because I never take no for an answer. My personal life may be different, but when I am working I never take no for an answer.

RM: Well I did not take no for an answer either, and that is why I got this interview. I hope you don’t think I was harassing you–I hope you were joking. Any words of wisdom for those starting out.

Abbas: Just what I told you. Don’t take no for answer. And a secondary piece of advice, get a pair of good walking shoes–a very good pair.

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