Review by Douglas Stockdale •
Stacy Mehrfar’s dark book, The Moon Belongs to Everyone, recently published by GOST Books is unsettlingly, and I believe deservedly so. Even the book’s title is a bit vexing, a generalization for all mankind but hints at moonlight and things that might go bump in the night. That night with its limited visibility due to the amount of available light has an uncertainty as to the surrounding conditions. And it is that uncertainty that I think is at the heart of her narrative.
She is a first generation American whose parents had immigrated to the United States and her family’s culture was perceived as making her feel ‘different’ from others while growing up. Fast forward to emigrating to Australia at age thirty, where they spoke ‘English’, but with subtle differences in meaning and context and her world was literally flipped upside down. As she reveals, she was again in a situation of being different with another set of social and cultural uncertainties, which she began to photograph what those meant to her.
Her first photobook in Australia in conjunction with Amy Stein has a very different upbeat appearance although their subject was about ‘outsiders and social norms’. In this photobook, she has taken a turn towards the darker side of her emotions and resulting narrative. I use the term ‘narrative’ very loosely as there is minimal structure in the sequencing that might be construed as a written story, but rather more of the emotional ebb and flow of a sonnet or a sad country song.
Her subjects are very ambiguous as to whether we are looking at the landscape and details of Australia or after her return to the New York and the United States. Her photographs are unmoored as to specific locations, which reflects her underlying emotional state as a result of moving to a strange land and then eventually back ‘home, which now also appears to feel equally strange due to the length of her absence. It reminds me of the plight in Thomas Wolfe’s novel, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’, as to the subtle of the changes when you leave your childhood home only to return later. We change, as do others, as well as does the surrounding community.
Returning home can be emotional unsettling as you can feel disconnected from where you once felt comfortable; it is no longer the same place, as you are not the same person either. Which is what Mehrfar is visually tapping into with this book; the feeling of being disconnected, uncomfortable and the underlying tension(s) that result. She is quoted as that after arriving in Australia, she eventually ‘felt lost, in limbo”. Perhaps a similar experience her parents had felt after immigrating in the United States seeking connections and a sense of community, maybe a subliminal message that has now become clearer.
The odd rhythm and sequencing of her book reflects a lack of cohesiveness that metaphorically creates a visual tension. The first section of the book is printed with silver ink on matte black paper, creating low contrast images that are hauntingly beautiful (and difficult to illustrate in this review). This printing results in pages that lack details, symbolic of a difficult or incomplete connection, literally the reader is left in the dark. These low contrast photographs could also represent subjects photographed at night illuminated by a moonlight, symbolical of the book’s title. There are sections of the silver ink printing and black matte paper interwoven with pages of traditional four-color printing on white paper. These printed page transitions can be visually jolting, perhaps also symbolic of moving from one continent to another far continent.
This book may help us understand and relate to the potential chaos, uncertainty, and tension felt by those uprooted by recent events in Afghanistan and other communities impacted by war and political angst. I can relate in thinking back to my family’s relocation from the Midwest to Los Angeles, which while within the United States, we had our own search for connections attempting to establish a sense of community. Thus, this book touches on a universal raw nerve related to the many issues of relocation, whether is across a city, state, country or transcontinental.
The book is a wonderful lay-flat design and production utilizing Smyth sewn pages and an open-spine Swiss binding that is concealed within the hardcovers. For the numerous full spread page bleeds, none of the photographic content is lost in the central book gutter, thus making this an enjoyable book to hold and read.
Previous photobooks by Stacy Mehrfar featured on PhotoBook Journal: Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal
The Moon Belongs to Everyone, Stacy Mehrfar
Photographer: Stacy Mehrfar, born Long Island, NY and currently resides in New York City, NY
Publisher: GOST, London, copyright 2021
Poem: Stacy Mehrfar
Hard covers, embossed, Smyth sewn, Swiss bound, 112 pages (165 x 225mm), four-color and silver ink on uncoated black paper, printed by EBS, Italy, ISBN 978-1-910401-35-4
Photobook Design: GOST
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