L'œil De La Photographie
by Sean Sheehan, April 23, 2021
A sense of belonging is one of those vital human anchors usually taken as a given. It is firmly grounded in the background, unthinkingly nurtured and confirmed by what is seen and experienced. When it goes off course, what is left in the space it once occupied is the subject matter of The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Stacy Mehrfar. In the book, the abeyance of a sense of belonging is a response to the experience of migration and Mehrfar’s photographs make up a phenomenology of the displaced consciousness that can arise in the wake of immigration.
Pictures of an orange, a split pomegranate, a cobweb manifest vibrancy but not in any disruptive or defamiliarizing way. They may indicate a lack of affect but are not studies in alienation, seeming more like neuroaesthetic response to natural phenomenon. The photos of nature are irregularly interspersed with close-ups of faces that become metonyms for bodily states of uprooted being. The faces are those of individuals from a different part of the world who have come to live in Australia: ‘each find themselves’, says Mehrfar, ‘living in a liminal cultural space, somewhere between where they came from and where they find themselves now.’ Photographed in eerie shades of grey, they clash with other pages of garish colours to create a pervading sense of disarray and internal alienation. Contexts are missing, a symptom of the alterity that comes from displacements of everyday attachments: the precarity that comes from not fully belonging. The result is a world of dissociation, an apophatic reproach for taking a sense of belonging for granted.
Stacy Mehrfar has experience of alignments going awry. She comes from a family who shifted from one culture and country to another. Her parents left Iran in the 1960s for North America and when she herself unexpectedly moved to Australia this mirrored her family’s earlier immigration. The moon in her book’s title can be read as something that for different groups of people is usually a communal phenomenon. A possible consequence of a rupture in life’s normal course, a breach in shared experiences, may bring the kind of self-awareness that Samuel Beckett describes in The Unnameable: ‘ I’m neither one side nor the other, I’m in the middle, I’m the partition, I’ve two surfaces and no thickness, perhaps that’s what I feel, myself vibrating, I’m the tympanum.’ It is space between worlds, between origin and destination.