a different side of Israel

Photographing women in the IDF

Ashkan Sahihi: women in the IDF
Women of the Israel Defense Forces, by Ashkan Sahihi

Ashkan Sahihi is an Iranian-American photographer who has gained fame with his remarkable portraits. I met him at a party in New York several years ago, where his Drug Series – portraits of non-drug users feeling the effects of substances they were using for the first time – was on exhibition.

We fell into conversation, and I learned that he was born in Iran to a Baha’i family that moved to Germany when he was a child, and from there to the United States. He told me that he remembered visiting Israel as a child, when his family came to see the world-famous Baha’i temple in Haifa. He said he fell in love with Israel, and wanted to visit again.

The Baha’i Temple, Haifa

Several years later, I met him by chance at a Tel Aviv art gallery. He had come to Israel at the invitation of the Israeli foreign ministry, to promote his Women of the Israel Defense Forces series.

Women of the IDF

When Ashkan’s series was exhibited at a San Francisco gallery a couple of years ago, he was interviewed for the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Considering Sahihi’s track record with the taboo, it is no surprise he chose uniformed youth gripping guns twice the size of their forearms for his series. “The women introduce two additional layers to an already multilayered subject matter. They bring up the question of democratic society vs. non-democratic society,” Sahihi, who was born in Iran and raised in Germany, explains.

“For example, feminists in Germany and Sweden have been arguing in support of women in military service, but by the same token German feminists consider Israeli politics aggressive, occupational and undemocratic.”

And then there is the issue of beauty. “In open-minded circles people find anything with guns uncool and perverted. They are chicks with guns, but there’s no way you can’t see human beauty in them. You could hate what they stand for and the sick man who produced the photographs,” he says with a laugh. “But there is plain imagery, beauty that you can’t escape.”

It’s safe to say that Ashkan courts controversy, and I’m perfectly fine with that. His images may be shocking sometimes, but they are never boring, they are often thought-provoking and they are even more often very beautiful.


  1. Very nice story,his work is very good and points
    to the nicer, gentler side of girls in uniforms.

  2. Did anyone else notice the the irony:

    In open-minded circles people find anything with guns uncool and perverted.[emph. added]

    Perhaps that should read, “In self-styled open-minded circles, people find . . . .”

  3. I find ladies with guns awfully sexy! Must be why I love pictures of the IDF women!

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