Jean Gaumy, Iran
Jean Gaumy began his career as a writer and photographer. His exposes on French healthcare and prison systems (he was the first photojournalist to be allowed inside a French prison) led to reforms. Today, he is better known for his photo of Iran’s chandored female militia practicing firing.
Gaumy visited Iran six or seven times over a four-year period. As he recalled:
“For me it was an opportunity to discover the true meaning of what Iran was, to be in a hot news place and really find out about it. I had listened to friends and colleagues at home, all of whom had an opinion on Iran, so my head was buzzing with received information, but when I got out there, I knew I would have to find out the real story for myself. Abbas told me not to believe anything I read in the newspapers about Iran and he was perfectly right. I found it very exciting, discovering an entirely new and different way of life.”
On his first visit, he became the first western photographer to be granted access to the Iranian training camp for female Basij militia on the outskirts of Tehran. It was in 1986, at the height of Iran-Iraq War, and the photos were ayatollahs’ way of saying even our women were prepared to fight and die for us. The war was not going swimmingly for the Islamic Republic; after the initial decisive victories in 1981-82, Iran had united the United States and the Soviet Union against itself. Alarmed by the prospects of a victorious Iran fomenting Islamic Revolution across Middle East and Central Asia, the Soviet Union, the Gulf States and the NATO began openly arming the Iraqis. The war would drag on for another six years.
Basij militia — whose voluntary members are promised with martyrdom — still survives. During the war, they were sent before the army as a human wave to clear minefields and shield the army from the enemy’s fire. These days, it serves at a de facto religious police of the Islamic Republic, enforcing hijab laws and sex segregation.