book review The moon belongs to everyone Photographs by Stacy Mehrfar Reviewed by Delaney Hoffman “I have an affinity for libraries. I got my first library card when I was in third grade and I’ve been walking aisles and aisles of books from Albuquerque to San Francisco ever since. When you pass so many of time looking at books en masse, you start to find ways to find things that even hip librarians would never think of putting out…”
The moon belongs to everyone
Photographs by Stacy Mehrfar
GOST Books, London, England, 2021. 112 pp., 6¾x9x¾”.
I have an affinity for libraries. I got my first library card when I was in third grade and since then I’ve wandered the aisles and aisles of books from Albuquerque to San Francisco. When you spend so much time looking at books en masse, you start to find ways to find things that even hip librarians would never think to pull off. From an early age, I quickly decided that my standard for judging (and therefore choosing) would be design. The spine of a book is vital for this reason, and of a photo book in particular. It was Stacy Arezou Mehrfar’s outward-facing spine The moon belongs to everyone, published and produced by GOST Books, which attracted me; silver and alluring, sitting there, like a jewel, in a sea of flat, dull titles.
The tonal qualities of the cover suggest an image made in the moonlight, though isolated it becomes surprisingly hard to tell. The surreal idea of timeless light is used as an incredibly effective tool throughout the book; well-cropped and extended images show detail that varies in scope, but the full image is never revealed. This method allows Mehrfar to retain some element of control throughout these images: these are the specific things she divulges, but there is always more beyond the frame. Mehrfar tests the psychic tuning we make by looking at an image – our trust in the photographer’s ability to show us what was there that we (perhaps) couldn’t see until it was taken out of context. What the artist proposes is the corner of a room, it’s a monochrome abstraction, it’s a sewer grate, it’s the undergrowth. What it doesn’t offer are skylines, entire bodies, or structures beyond those that serve insects (although I will say I like Mehrfar’s cobweb images included in this volume. I return to them often).
Everything is zoomed in, hyperfocused, abstract, disorienting. The experience of crossing The moon belongs to everyone first feels urgent, images anxious in their need to stumble forward. This method of communication makes sense for Mehrfar in the conceptualization of the project. It is a meditation on the photographer’s experience of emigrating from America to Australia after growing up in a home of Persian immigrants. The weight of waiting to find a sense of grounding in a new physical place while simultaneously adjusting to the psychosocial space is tangible. These images communicate the world as seen through the eyes of someone who is forced to look everywhere at once. Although this feeling of hyperawareness breeds fantastical images, the way the viewer is fed these images – full bleed images, rich tonal images, over and over and over again – begins to weigh on my eyes.
I can’t help but wonder if it was an effective decision to give every image equal weight through the consistent use of full bleed printing. While the construction of the book is fantastic, there are times when I find myself wishing some of Mehrfar’s imagery had more room to breathe. His portraits of other immigrants in his community – stunning, slippery and strange in their expressions – are reproduced in luminous silver ink, mimicking recurring landscape detail in their print quality, all cut in half by the gutter of the book. In some ways, the feeling of claustrophobia it imparts is effective; it is ultimately moving to see the portraits of individuals living this major transition so closely. In a cultural climate that threatens a growing refugee crisis and forced (alongside voluntary) immigration, The moon belongs to everyone provides a valuable and empathetic lens into the inner lives of those trying to rebuild and re-understand what places called “home” look like.
Buy a book
Read more book reviews
Delaney Hoffman (she/they) is an artist and writer based in Albuquerque, NM. She received her BFA from the University of New Mexico in 2019 and has shown work throughout New Mexico as well as nationally. Their practice is based on traditional darkroom techniques and includes textile objects as well as written works that explore utility, fantasy and gender. Delaney is currently the photo-eye gallery and bookstore assistant.