Dafy Hagai’s Monaco

Text by Meryl Fontek

There’s only one place where you can buy an Auntie Anne’s frosted pretzel before noon, touch things you can’t afford, try on swimsuits in the winter, prom dresses whether you’re 14 or 34, and shamelessly inhale your ex’s cologne. That blissful place of opportunity is at the mall. In time with the launch of Dafy Hagai’s latest photo book, Monaco,  published by Art Paper Editions, Dafy and I talked all things mall-related. From the infamous monstrosity that is the King of Prussia Mall in Philadelphia, to comfort felt being in one’s local mall, and the ritualistic pull that back-lit signage has on a young woman in the suburbs on a Saturday night. 

Monaco fuses editorial-style photography with 90’s fast-fashion mall aesthetic. A rarity in the fashion world, Hagai takes non-luxury items seriously, shooting them as if they were high fashion. The title of the book is a nod to the smoke-and-mirror nature of consumerism. Hagai recalls seeing an Eiffel Tower built inside of a mall in Netivot, Israel. The over-the-top sense of escapism is so blatant it becomes ironic. Hagai leaned into this dream-like existence that a mall can often times elicit. “I remember always laughing when I’d pass a store called Monaco in South Tel Aviv’s wholesale fashion district. Monaco is one of the most luxurious shopping destinations in the world and this store in Tel Aviv has the name, but sells stock T-shirts.”

The whisper-like haikus accompanying the photos reference Hagai’s experiences at malls. As haiku typically draws on brief moments of time, Hagai’s words are weighted in their brevity. She moves from Omer Adam song lyrics, to the taste of a Cinnabon rich in artificial flavor, and the scene of a kiss surrounded by inflatable nostalgia. 

Monaco, Hagai’s fifth book, is less focused on documentary and location than her previous ones. Photos were shot in a studio to mirror the universal mall-scape familiar to us all. Monaco is a homage to escaping into the mundane.