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.