Merzan was born in a remote area near a little village north of Paris, just outside of Montataire. His parents operated a small farm that has been in their family for five generations.
Merzan L’Granaré was sent to study art in Paris when he was very young. At age 15, he entered the Lycée Michelet, a city school installed on the former estate of the Prince of Condé.
The beautiful architectural framework of this high school and the relationships he developed with administrators and local camera shop owner caused Merzan to see (things) with new eyes. He spent most of his time studying shape, color, light and allowing his emotions to feel his surroundings.
Merzan, the Photographer
Merzan, having meager resources, obtained a camera from the local shop in trade for part time work. He became immersed with his self-study in photography. Spending much of his spare time in museums, his work was influenced by his art history study, specifically the work of the great masters. Merzan had a burning desire to create and create he did. His photographs began getting the attention of local art (society) enthusiasts.
Merzan’s creative process was about the journey, not the result. As prolific as Merzan was, he destroyed almost every photograph he ever produced as a youth.
Haunted by Beauty
The Parisian high school he attended had more than 40 nationalities represented by its student body.
At the beginning of his third year at the school, Merzan was mesmerized at (his) first site of a new foreign student starting her attendance the new semester. Her name was Matahina (Tahitian for “goddess eyes”). Matahina was from a remote island in French Polynesia. The daughter of Tahitian royalty, Matahina was sent to study painting and writing in Paris as part of an international cultural exchange program designed in pursuit of promoting travel to the South Pacific islands through art exchanges.
Matahina’s father was a descendent of a well-loved native Tahitian king. Her father married a beautiful French woman; giving birth to their lovely fair-skinned, light blue eyed, dark-haired daughter.
The moment that Merzan saw Matahina he became a prisoner of her majestic spirit. Her eyes would ignite everything around her. However, this light in Merzan’s life went dark when it became evident to him that Matahina was not returning his affections.
Wrapped by His Own Reality
Merzan was always a self-starter and, though generally instructed in art, learned most of his (creative) skills motivated by his own self-study. He clearly felt the depression of not being able to pursue this young woman of light and foreign (tropical) intrigue.
Somehow, instead of becoming introverted and lost in self-pity, Merzan used those lonely feeling to his advantage and continued to find places (to photograph) in Paris. The City of Lights became an endless resource of visual artistic wonder for the young “artiste de la photographie.”
Months passed, then one day something completely unexpected happened. Almost as if by an intervention of the Gods, Matahina’s sponsors wanted a photographic documentary of her activities in her Parisian educational home to be created.
School administrators called Merzan into the Headmaster’s outer office where they had him wait.
Merzan had no idea why he was there. He occupied his time sitting there by studying the details of the interior office with its elaborate crown moldings and other periodic elaborately designed trim.
After maybe 15 or 20 minutes, the outer office door opened squeaking from the sounds of their old oil-lacking hinges.
Merzan turned his head and looked toward the backlit doorway to see Matahina walk in. His heart stopped and all sound silenced. Her eyes seemed to light the entire room. Merzan felt breathless.
Matahina, not noticing Merzan sitting there, was escorted into the Headmaster’s office with the door closing quickly behind her. Merzan, mind swirling with question, was in awe. He continued to sit and wait.
Perhaps 15 or 20 minutes more lapsed when the Headmaster’s office door opened. Merzan was called into the room and seated in the available chair, in front of the desk, next to Matahina. The Headmaster asked (them), “Don’t you two know each other?” Merzan answered, “Yes,” while simultaneously, in her Tahitian-seasoned French accent, Matahina answered, “No!”
Merzan, felt what little breath he had left leave his body. Lacking all self-esteem, he thought to himself, “Comment peut-elle ne pas savoir de moi?” (How can she not know of me?) Merzan sat quietly, his head dropped some.
“Merzan,” the Headmaster instructed, “you are to produce a series of photographs of Matahina,” and continued to explain the purpose of the project.
Matahina turned toward Merzan and smiled as if to say, “nice to meet you,” while indicating her cooperation with the nature of the project.
Matahina, dignifiedly reserved, was a very kind and gentle young lady with a truly majestic air of beauty mixed with mystery and intrigue. When she smiled (at him), Merzan saw something he had never seen (in her) before.
This became that moment in time, for both of them, when their live’s began to change. Merzan and Matahina were about to discover things about themselves they did not know existed and probably did not truly understand. Actually, there was never a need for them to understand what was not so easily explained because every moment of their time together was measured by a quality of its own.
The Art Project
Over the next two semesters, the two of them were inseparable. Their photographic documentary became a creative love affair. The passion was evident in the photographs that were produced. These (photos) mysteriously disappeared years later in Tahiti.
Shortly after her third semester, Matahina was called back to her home in Mo’ore’a – about 17 kilometers northwest of Tahiti.
Her return to Tahiti was nothing shy of a tragic time for both of them. They were unable to say, “good-bye.” Matahina left.
Merzan felt empty and lost. From loneliness, he committed himself to the belief of, “my art, my way.”
Merzan graduated from Lycée Michelet a few semesters after and, surprisingly, turned down a scholarship to study the History of Art at the Sorbonne (Paris campus). Instead, Merzan returned to his family farm where he participated in daily chores for the next three years.
One day he received an unexpected registered letter from the House of the Ministry of Culture, Pape’ete.
He opened the letter to find only a one-way passage from Roissy Airport (now Charles de Gualle) to Fa’a’ā International Airport (Pape’ete, Tahiti) with a ferry pass (ticket) the outer island of Mo’ore’a.
The only other item in this letter was a piece from a torn photograph showing part of a familiar section of a street lit scene in Paris. Merzan instantly recognized the outdoor café where a few years prior, he and Matahina would often enjoy a café au lait before or after their photographic work together.
Merzan couldn’t resist the adventure and with his family’s blessings, left for the South Pacific.
With nothing more than the clothes on his back, a camera around his neck and a small pouch given him by his mother along with instructions not to open it until the right time, Merzan began the adventure.
The last thing he asked his mother, when leaving, was how he’d know when the time would be right to open the pouch. She said, “vous saurez mon fils (you’ll know my son)!”
A Strange Land and Something New
Arriving without incident in Tahiti, Merzan found his way by ferry to Mo’ore’a. Upon arrival he was greeted by colorful skirt-wrapped local authorities (if you could call them that) who escorted him to the other side of the island near the Baie de Cook (Cook’s Bay).
It was Her
The light had returned. Waiting for him was Matahina.
They saw each other. Stood there motionless and expressionless. Their eyes spoke volumes until Matahina broke the silence and said to Merzan, “ia orana aita pe’a’pe’a haera tahora.” (Welcome. I hope your travel went well.)
Merzan deciphered from the small amounts of the Tahitian language he could remember learning from Matahina in Paris that this probably meant something about being welcome from some good, or perhaps she said, difficult, time-consuming travel.
Merzan replied, “la ora na, maita’i oe? O to’u i’oa Merzan. Ua here vau ia oe Matahina.”
Then Merzan lifted his camera readying to take a photograph of her. Matahina’s eyes were radiating from this tropical world filled with its magical reflections from the light beams cast by the island’s sun. However, Matahina acted confused.
Merzan was attempting to say, “Hello, I am Merzan. May I take your picture?”
However, what he actually said was more like, “Hello, I am Merzan. I love your brother like a lizard loves your book!”
Matahina, who had no siblings, held back an embarrassing chuckle as long as she could while trying to compose her smile and provide that familiar “photographic look” for Merzan – much like she had done so often in Paris. Then, losing all self-control of her diplomatic royalty and demeanor, the princess fell to her knees onto the sand laughing hysterically. Merzan took that photo, then sat beside her.
They sat there, together, while the island sun set past the horizon. The moment that Merzan saw Matahina he became a prisoner of her majestic spirit and spent the next three decades on that island.
It wasn’t long after his arrival to the South Pacific, when Merzan knew it was time to open the pouch his mother sent with him. Inside was something special that he placed around Matahina’s neck.
Matahina unexpectedly grew ill during the season of abundance in 1999. Nothing could be done to save her. After six days, Merzan left French Polynesia, alone with nothing but the shirt on his back and a camera around his neck. Merzan knew he could never return to his magical land of light.
Where is Merzan Now
Today, Merzan travels with the wind. He wanders in and out of different creative projects. If you are able to find him, chances are you’d find this artist with not much more than the clothes on his back and a camera around his neck.
Carlos Reid, M.B.A., M.S. & M.O.T.
THE CARLOS REID GALLERY
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