Lise Sarfati’s work exists at the edge of real­ity and fic­tion. Merging por­trai­ture, snap­shot and arranged tableau, her images con­jure richly lay­ered worlds often cen­tered on spe­cific char­ac­ters”, which avoid any fixed nar­ra­tives and allow view­ers to inhabit a space of mul­ti­ple inter­pre­ta­tions.

Born in Oran, Algeria (French), Sarfati grad­u­ated with an MA. in Russian Studies from the Sorbonne in 1979. From 1989 to 1998, she lived in Russia, cap­tur­ing the atmos­phere of a coun­try in tran­si­tion. Her images of urban ruins and char­ac­ters in inte­rior spaces led to her first major body of work, Acta Est (2000) pub­lished by Phaidon. The series’ poetic approach set itself apart from the cat­e­gory of pho­to­jour­nal­ism and laid the ground­work for Sarfati’s later inter­est on the lives of young peo­ple.

In 2003, she trav­elled across the United States pho­tograph­ing ado­les­cents in the cities of Austin (TX) Asheville (NC), Portland (OR), New Orleans (LO), Berkeley, Oakland and Los Angeles (CA). Her result­ing series The New Life (2005) pub­lished by Twin Palms Publishers affirmed her approach to open nar­ra­tives, depict­ing young char­ac­ters and their feel­ing of being out of step with the world. Each char­ac­ter appears simul­ta­ne­ously in the here and now of the pic­ture and in an inde­fin­able else­where. Her sub­se­quent American projects Austin, Texas (2008), On Hollywood (2010) and She (2012) fur­ther explored her inter­ests on psy­cho­geog­ra­phy, fem­i­nine iden­tity, and the every­day.

With Oh Man (2017), a series of richly detailed tableaux depict­ing lone­some men walk­ing in down­town Los Angeles, Sarfati departs from her accus­tomed 35mm for­mat, opt­ing for a 4×5 view cam­era. The large-​for­mat prints enlarge the space for con­tem­pla­tion, invit­ing the viewer to explore what is hid­den in these decep­tively sim­ple images. The series also marks a key direc­tion on Sarfati’s inter­est on the rela­tion­ship between the indi­vid­ual and the urban land­scape.

Sarfati’s work has met inter­na­tional crit­i­cal acclaim and is held in major pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions, includ­ing the Centre Pompidou, Paris; LACMA, Los Angeles; SF MoMA, CA; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; De Young Museum, San Francisco; Pier 24, San Francisco; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; Harry Ramson Center, University of Texas at Austin, TX; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris; and the Wilson Center of Photography, London. Select solo-​exhi­bi­tions includes Paris Photo (2017), Centro Italiano per la Fotografia, Turin (2016), LACMA, (2014), Brancolini Grimaldi, London (2012) Rome (2009), FOAM, Amsterdam (2007), UC Riverside California Museum of Photography (2006), Yossi Milo Gallery, New York (2012, 2008, 2005), Rose Gallery, Santa Monica (2012, 2011, 2006), MEP, Paris (2002), Fotografins hus, Stockholm (2009), Nicolaj Center of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen (2006) and The Photographer’s Gallery (2005).

Major awards include Prix Niepce (1996), ICP Infinity Award (1996). Between 1996 and 2011, Sarfati was a mem­ber of Magnum Photos.