T&H: Can you tell us a bit about the experience of putting together this book? How did you select the photographers to be featured?
A.G.E.: I’ve wanted to put together this book for a long time. I knew we had something to tell – a history of contemporary Iranian photography across three generations of female artists. By presenting these images side-by-side, I hope to tell my version of this history. The book is not ordered chronologically or thematically, and this was an important choice for me. It’s more about ‘going back and forth’ between generations, but also between themes and styles. This format offers great freedom to the reader, who can stroll through these different viewpoints and styles. These are all accompanied by accessible explanatory texts to situate the reader in the cultural and social contexts.
I wanted to combine documentary and staged artistic photography, to give multiple perspectives on the complex voices and views of Iran’s recent history. These artists come from a wide range of backgrounds and professional experience, so a reader can see these many faces of female expression.
T&H: You mention in your introduction that younger generations of Iranian women are using photography to tackle taboo subjects like intimacy and the body. What makes photography such a powerful social tool?
A.G.E.: Photography has the power to be incredibly direct. It gives female photographers a tool to show their experiences of social oppression clearly and directly, without abstraction. By comparison, painting and literature are more heavily mediated, and reach their audiences in different ways. Photography can be immediate, and spread quickly, so it responds directly and strongly to cultural trends and social changes. It also offers a level of intimacy with the subjects – this is something that people can relate to. The power of vulnerability is highlighted by several artists in this book.
Tahmineh Monzavi, for example, takes a very non-traditional approach to her subject matter. She explores the margins of society, including working in poor social areas. One series in particular focuses on vulnerable women, such as prostitutes, addicts, and transgender individuals. Her work therefore goes beyond artistic representation, and opens a discussion about different social and gender issues.
Ghazaleh Hedayat, on the other hand, portrays the female body as a site of destruction and oppression. She scratches out her own images to the point of invisibility. These acts of symbolic self-destruction serve as a protest, as well as a reminder of how women are treated in a patriarchal society.