Tall Poppy Syndrome

American photographers Amy Stein and Stacy Arezou Mehrfar explore this cultural phenomenon in an exhibition now open at Edmund Pearce Gallery.

The notion of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ has hung around the Australian nation for as long as we’ve had achievers and (apparently) a desire to bring them back to earth. But does the syndrome really exist? Or did it perhaps once exist, and has now passed into our history? Are we now a society more accustomed to the truisms of a cashed-up neo-liberal order, where success is available to all, and we no longer have the need to bring the mighty down a peg or two? Have we been learning to admire, rather than scorn, the excesses and pomposities of the successful?

No, say two young American photographers who have documented the concept of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ throughout rural New South Wales – it is very much alive and well. And from this week, until December 21, Edmund Pearce Gallery is proud to host the Australian premiere of American artists Amy Stein and Stacy Arezou Mehrfar’s unique body of work Tall Poppy Syndrome.

The exhibition has previously shown this year at ClampArt in New York City, with an accompanying monograph published by Decode Books, now released in Australia. Tall Poppy Syndrome is the result of a month-long road trip in 2010 throughout various regions of New South Wales where Stein and Mehrfar set out to meet everyday Australians and explore their reaction to this distinct cultural phenomenon.

Stein and Mehrfar spent their days meeting and photographing everyday Australians, learning about the relationship between the group and the individual within Australian society. Mehrfar moved to Sydney in 2008 from the US and says, “I soon noticed that TPS affected the way people spoke about their peers and their neighbours. I saw that it created a way of communicating and speaking about oneself that was entirely foreign to me.”

Hence, the scheme was hatched to find a way to document how this phenomenon manifests, conceptually rather than literally, among the Australian public, and after a substantial amount of work, editing and sharing of photographic credits across the portfolio, the exhibition has now arrived in Melbourne.

Stacy Arezou Mehrfar’s work predominantly explores cultural identity as long-term projects and her work is held in several public and private collections worldwide. Amy Stein’s work explores man’s evolving isolation from community, culture and the environment. Her work is held in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; and the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.

Tall Poppy Syndrome shows at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Level 2, 37 Swanston St, Melbourne, until December 21.

Also showing until December 21: Emma Phillips, Salt, and Michael Gordon-Hill, Private Botanical Garden


1. Farmer’s Daughter with Heart Necklace
2. Hay Branch of the Country Women’s Association Hay
3. Mates in Ulladulla
4. Man with Tools, Broken Hill
5. David at the Salesyard



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