Home Arts The story of the battles and struggles of Iranian women photographers

The story of the battles and struggles of Iranian women photographers

by Maryam Azimzadehirani November 24, 2020
The story of the battles and struggles of Iranian women photographers

Online screening of Focus Iran in Montreal: a French documentary about Iran

The International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA), in collaboration with the Maison de la culture de Côte-des-Neiges, presented a free online screening of Focus Iran from Nov. 18 to 19, available to all Canadian residents.

The documentary, Focus Iran (2017), follows the efforts and struggles of five Iranian photographers, including four young women, who have to overcome  many barriers to continue working in their country. It is a story which shows the honest personal narratives of these artists about how they could battle the religious and social taboos to shoot a real image of the invisible folds of current Iranian society.

Directed by French duo Nathalie Masduraud and Valérie Urréa, Focus Iran speaks about the different styles of photography like portraiture, staging, and documentary photography via the personal experiences of their photographers to explore the challenges of being a photographer in Iran.

“After the Islamic revolution in 1979, many artists had to leave Iran. I was lucky to be one of them,” said Montreal-based humanitarian photographer Aydin Matlabi in a phone interview. He was a guest from FIFA for the public screening of this documentary at the McCord Museum two years ago. “The Islamic regime stopped shooting my project because I broke the taboos,” said Matlabi. “This documentary is about these taboos.”

Some photographic subjects are considered taboo by Islamic rules in Iran. For example, it is not possible to shoot a nude body or show women without a veil. If a photo presents a couple, the man is not to be shown beside the woman, and it is forbidden to shoot homosexual people.

Even if photographers could shoot these subjects, they may not be able to display the photos in galleries in Iran.

In this circumstance, it seems impossible to be a photographer, but the documentary tells the story of the photographers who are still working. “They are like the real heroes for me,” said Matlabi. “Despite their chance to leave Iran and despite many social, political and traditional issues, they continue to create the art with their nation.”

These artists use different methods to bypass censorship and limitations. Some of them use metaphor.

“I tried to take the pictures of my subjects in front of my room window where there is a unique background of a grey concrete building. This building was like a metaphor of Iran, whose people suffer the economic and political problems,” said Newsha Tavakolian, one of the women photographers featured in the documentary.

She also discussed another limitation: “The woman artists in Iran are moving in the minefield.”

Iran has a patriarchal society where women encounter many obstacles. The documentary navigates all of the barriers but never talks about them directly. While watching this documentary, the viewer follows the women on their shoots, in their studios, and at different locations to find out how these barriers forced the women to redouble their efforts to reach their goals, despite lacking freedom.

Focus Iran documented the voice of these artists and gave them [the] freedom to express themselves to the world,” explained Matlabi.

From Tehran to Kashan and the lake of Urmia in the northwest of Iran, the documentary gives a new image of Iran that is far from the usually discussed nuclear issues and political negotiations.

Focus Iran tried to avoid the negative aspects of Iran and mostly focused on the artist’s beautiful struggles,” Matlabi said. “It is interesting that the staff could get all the permissions to talk with the interviewees and provide a real image of current Iran for their audiences.”

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