“Police women academy” is a stunning series of photos taken by Iranian photographer Abbas Kowsari in 2006, featuring the first squad of police women in Iran’s history during their graduation ceremony. These are images that, although real, border on the world of fantasy and fiction and immerse us in capturing a performance in every sense of the word. However, of all the photographs taken by Kowsari during the ceremony, there is one that stands out above the others for its veil of mystery and charm, and because, precisely, it manages to manifest itself as an image that is between the real and unreal.
In 2003, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave the Tehran police force permission to create the first command of female police officers, who, after three years of training, were ready to perform their public graduation ceremony along with the entire paraphernalia, spectacle and pathos that characterize Iranian society. Abbas Kowsari, by 2006, was already a recognized photographer in the field of photojournalism and street photography in Iran, which is why when the graduation ceremony was going to take place, he was invited to execute the registration of the event. However, what no one expected, including himself, was that the images that were going to come out of the camera of him would be Ilustration 1: Policewomen Academy, Abbas kowsari, 2006, digital photography. transformed into the tremendous photographs that we know today. In an interview taken by Public Delivery magazine he said:
“Policewomen performed many martial arts and chase routines, including climbing walls and jumping out of the windows of moving cars. But after he stepped down, that training was eliminated. Last year’s ceremony was limited to a parade, speeches, target practice, and the loading of revolvers by blindfolded policewomen graduates. No photographers were allowed.”(Abbas Kowsari’s Surprising Photos of Veiled Female Police Squad in Iran – Public Delivery, n.d.)
With the words of the Iranian photographer, and without even knowing the photographs, we can almost imagine scenes from action and adventure films, only with the visual ingredient of the fundamentalist feminine clothing of post-revolution Iranian society. Now, the image to which I refer and which is the one that in my opinion dramatically condenses an entire visual discourse, is a photograph taken of a group of four women rappelling down the facade of a classic Persian building. Two on the right side and the other two on the left side, the area of the building in which they concentrate their descent is, in appearance, a stone wall in light tones, which allows the unmistakable clothing of the “chadors”1 to be manifest with all its visual power.
The three round windows on each side of the image contrast with the rest of the rectangular windows, generating a dialogue similar to the contrast that exists between the women’s bodies and the logic of the building as a rectangular structure. In fact, the round windows in addition to closing the image, also closely resemble the “chadors” of women when they are loose and nobody is using them, since, if they are extended and looked at from a zenith position, the The part where the person’s head goes is strikingly similar to the tiny round windows found inside the larger circular windows. In addition, the two women at the top on the left are in sync with the two rectangular windows that have a green frame and whose surface is smooth, just like the two women at the right bottom with the rectangular windows that the building has in the same side and that are more or less at the height of them. It is almost as if the windows give us a visual clue of everything that happens. Kamran Rastegar, regarding to the exhibition “Iran Inside out” held at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York in 2009, and where Abbas Kowsari participated with one of his photos from the series “Police next women’s academy” wrote: “Contemporary Iranian visual culture, from a variety of locations and perspectives, offers a degree of complexity when it comes to countering the binary concepts found in notions such as modernity (internationalism) and tradition (regionalism).” ( Rastegar, 2009, p. 346).
Kowsari achieves exactly that with this image, a strange kind of balance between modern and tradition. An image that alludes to the 21st century but whose visual sensation, both in terms of architecture and clothing, refers us to the traditional and to the past. The image, for this reason, generates a break in the gaze of the absent-minded viewer that forces them to look at it again very carefully. it gets, in the words of W.J.T. Mitchell, a “Medusa effect”, the spectators are stunned, paralyzed like a stone for a few seconds or minutes since it also offers us a range of sensations that goes from the comic – since it must be uncomfortable and not very useful to rappel wearing a chador-, to the surprising when we realize that the image we are watching really happened. But, what does this image really want? I answer you, this image seeks: balance. Both from the past to the present, as from the real to the fictitious, it literally seeks to not fall.
The reason why the image seems so strange – besides how surprising it is to see a group of Iranian women rappelling while carrying pistols and even rifles – is because of the angle at which the photograph was taken, Kowsari, for obvious reasons, had to take a low-angle photo since he found himself on the floor, and in his attempt to frame the women within the photograph, he decided to cut the ceiling of the shot (a decision surely unconscious but very successful), what makes the image lean back, as if it were going to fall, almost like the backdrop of a stage, and what women tirelessly do with the ropes, rather than descending, is use the full weight of their bodies in an inexhaustible attempt to not drop that image, because if the image falls, they do it as well. Abbas Kowsari’s photo is the search of the image itself of not letting that feminine attempt of balance fall, and everything, absolutely everything, collaborates in that cause, the women, their clothes, the building, the windows, the ropes, and, above all, the angle
Abbas Kowsari’s surprising photos of veiled female police squad in Iran – Public Delivery. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2021, from https://publicdelivery.org/abbas kowsari-police women academy/?__cf_chl_managed_tk__=4e851f8a6b0e36af5c578116c2bd8fcf09f9 f326 -1626183527-0- AePTYArk6yYn_G6CMbFApzO_6yyoM_gfO8MkqBnJsjijycmuBtDP1TMhd4eS z4PY5eKm_xrZ2iXJ-JeswYq1- UkaxRXKQdPLdzydUCB_hUKey8YFVJOwYsFeF05e1h54uDjmeVxj R0LB6jjjlBG qjQ02p9INHZRv0h15KqniSIqQEDyjRgStDVYz9DZqWpSqHsxX y7UUiXZD45nm2 Ik2R5gpXVgPwjlyGm2lcUKiJepDbfO2CXh7ITa6SDC_f74h vkQ6d5VIGC8rN6i3X0 24NcNwnc9hGUaUpMdNVSGgZvFGriLDD_rEgay0CX mgAunfT8RhxKdTkQ_J8mhalFUls7- VzpL5aMDcSy6AVmXRqL2_I5ZB2LB3ES2i4TES2- jdPRB33IkEWorVEaZQn1rmX6tLZ-l5u8o9LVbzxqbtYKfJ PlNINssOIFBuTVimTz1- EzZ0- 4MKd5kfIuseQPkC6CqAQILW2SSiqXehgy1sy BSMLHxJ_JY7wMrpzaTA8lCK5uL 2tqq7rvlFhOmoQ1E7XOKS5i3e2pP8TRtXpc Ha3gFglDMpBdWU6gXBmZeFquDuOMHr4E8MqajEMfoYslGtAdoXWBuMRj pxwpZzUlMDmNNnM15yZJUdeu8GjQQL8eH8pPgynTSJw6bC5_bxeYrXUZm HXGYVH_jRSRIVC7 Mitchell, W. (1996). ¿Qué quieren realmente las imágenes? Chicago: October, Vol. 77 pp. 71-82. Show, G., Museum, C. A., City, N. Y., & Languages, A. (2009). Iran inside out. 345– 350.