Photographer Giulia Frigieri followed pioneering Iranian surfer Shahla Yasini for two years for her series "Surfing in Iran," which earned her the top prize at the 2021 Revelation Prize at the MAP Toulouse festival.
Browsing through the images that Giulia Frigieri has posted on her website, one might naturally assume that the photographer is from the Arab world or Iran, but she isn't; Frigieri is Italian, but she is curious, intrigued, and passionate about that part of the world. This curiosity first led her to Beirut and then to Tehran, where she reached out to Iranian surfer Shahla Yasini via Instagram and later met up with her in Ramin, a small village located a few miles from the city of Chabahar, in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan.
Arriving there from Tehran, Frigieri was immediately struck by the desert landscapes of southern Iran. "Our first rendezvous was in a taxi,” she writes. "We were shy and tentative. Shahla offered me a cigarette. I replied that I had been told that it was unseemly for an Iranian woman to smoke in public. She laughed at my clumsy comment, and our shyness was gone." Yasini, who is also a diver and a lifeguard, then went on to tell the photographer about her love for the sea.
Yasini took Frigieri to a little-known surf spot on Ramin beach, near the port. The photographer started taking photos. While Yasini and her friend Mona Seraji surfed, men smoked shisha on the beach and people prayed at different times of the day. There were also local women, but unlike Frigieri and Seraji, they didn't swim, "they are wrapped in their black chadors, holding their children's hands and waiting for the men to finish swimming in the sea."
Frigieri took a liking to that area and decided to stay there a few more weeks. Resolutely contemporary, “Surfing in Iran” goes beyond simple reportage; the photographer's shots helped forge a bond between the two women and a friendship was born. Frigieri would return several times over the following years to see her friend and continue working on her photo project. The square format is predominant in the photographer's images. Alongside the portraits of Yasini, whether in action or in more private moments, we discover other local surfers and their world. In Iran, surfing is done with whatever means available, and remains a niche activity.
Prizewinner of the Prix révélation 2021 at the MAP Toulouse with this series, Frigieri says that she has noticed a change since her first days on that beach. She now sees more and more young people taking up surfing, especially young people from Tehran eager to give the activity a try. As for Yassini, whom Frigieri compares to "a mermaid," she remains as passionate as ever and continues her fight so that women and men can enjoy the sport in better conditions in Iran.
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.
More information on Giulia Frigieri on her website.
Read more: Getting Up and Catching the Wave