Back in the spring of this year, the good folks at Mus Mus (who prefer to remain anonymous) approached me about contributing to their new Mus-Mus project, @Paris. I gently declined due to an already overflowing plate, but they came back a month or so later and asked again, “just to make sure.” I think I again gently declined, but by the time they knocked on the door a third time, I had been thinking about what I would contribute to an online photo-project about Paris.
What I had been thinking about was the above photograph.
Since childhood, this photograph has been lodged in my memory banks. Truth be told, it’s my only connection to Paris. I’ve never been to the city, and while the romance and history of the city definitely has its hold on me, I’ve just never had occasion to get there.
But I’ve been there numerous times through the history of the life of Abdu’l-Baha and the talks he gave in that city almost exactly a century ago. I wrote back and said that if I were to contribute it would be about this photograph, and was that ok? The Mus-Mus folks were so enthusiastic and encouraging that I was glad I had decided to say Yes.
The essay is now written and the @Paris project is live and launched. And to be completely honest, of all the work I’ve been busy with this summer, this is my favorite thing. My piece is just one small touchstone of a much larger, thoughtful online “archive” of photographs by contemporary photographers, about Paris. The jurors were Stephen Shore, my good friend Denise Wolff, of Aperture, and curator/writer Ulrich Baer, who also contributed a wonderful, lengthier essay about Paris and photography. The archive is here. An excerpt from my essay is below:
In 1908, the Young Turks of the Committee of Union and Progress revolted against the despotic Sultan Abdu’l-Hamid. This brought to an end the centuries-old Ottoman Empire and paved the way for a semi-secular government based in the ancient city of Constantinople. With that singular, revolutionary act, all political and religious prisoners throughout the Empire were freed. Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, the man in a white turban pictured in the middle of this photograph, tasted freedom for the first time since childhood. He was 65 years old.
This photograph was made in Paris in the autumn of 1911. Abdu’l-Baha stayed in the city for nearly two months, near the Trocadero Gardens adjacent to the Avenue de Camoëns. After over 50 years of exile from his native Persia, and imprisonment for espousing the universal ideals of the teachings of his father, Baha’u’llah, he had left, by steamer ship, the prison-city of Akka where he had been under house arrest since the age of 24, and embarked on a journey to the West. First London, then Paris and eventually New York City hosted his visit as he sought to create new bridges between the peoples, cultures, religions and ideals of the East and West.
In this photograph, we see Abdu’l-Baha standing at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, with the Champ de Mars visible in the hazy background….
To read the full essay
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mus-mus is a collaborative photography space that yokes ideas and images together in an experimental and playful way that seems most appropriate for an internet based salon of an increasingly post-consumer world. In keeping with this ethic we prefer a mildly anonymous position and ‘authorlessness’. Keeping mouths shut about who we are, we hope you will better know the pictures, projects and ideas.