Biography & Accomplishments
Lise Sarfati is a 50-year-old Frenchwoman who developed her talent as a photographer while growing up in the town of Nice. Today Ms. Sarfati uses that talent to create photographic documentaries. A teenaged holiday on the coast of the Black Sea sparked her interest in Russia and she explored this interest while studying at the Sorbonne, eventually earning a master’s degree in Russian studies in 1979, with a thesis on Russian photography. In 1986, Ms. Sarfati launched her professional career as a photographer when she joined the Acadamie des Beaux Arts in Paris. Three years later, she took up residence in Russia and remained there for almost ten years, studying a transitioning Russian culture through her lens.
Lise Sarfati developed her first body of work during her Russian experience as the Soviet Union was going through metamorphosis from a communist state to a group of independent republics. The breakup of the Soviet Union revealed a decayed culture, “By the time Mikhail Gorbachev was positioned as General Secretary of the U.S.S.R. in March of 1985, the Russian socioeconomic situation was in collapse and ruin. Criminals ran amuck, corruption within the government; alcoholism and drug addictions were the mainstream of an oppressed people” (Fall of Communism). Ms. Sarfati photographed images from the 1990’s in the cities of Moscow, Norisk and Vorkuta and “Those images proved her to be a sensitive and imaginative observer – of dread-filled, decaying industrial sites that serve as metaphors for chronic loss and waste, and of physically and socially ostracized young people” (Cotton, 2003). In 1996, Lise Sarfati exhibited this series in her first major solo exhibition in Paris and the work earned her several high profile awards for photographic documentary. Sarfati returned to her native France in 1998 and two years later, Phaidon published her first book, Acta Est, showcasing forty-three of her Russian photos. The publisher described the book as “…neither travelogue nor photojournalistic essay. Rather, Sarfati uses descriptions of the details of the Russian environments which fascinate her to create a visual drama - a personal theatre of dysfunction and deterioration, of change and beauty. The title - literally "it (feminine) is over" from the Latin phrase "Acta Est Fabula" meaning "the play is over" - signals her insistence that the work not be read as journalism but as a work of theatrical imagination” (Barnes & Noble). The book was well received and one reviewer said it “put her name firmly on the photo world map” (Cardella).
In 2003, Lise Sarfati turned her lens to focus on the youth of the United States as she traveled to Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oregon, and California to research and capture the images for her next major body of work, The American Series. This was a series of very personal photographs of young people, many are post-adolescent girls, which shows them in various lost, apparently barely-conscious states. One reviewer describes her subjects as “… lost in a daydream with no one to wake them, gazing timelessly past the material world, and into an almost tangible void. A closer look, however, unveils the central, pervading question on the minds of Sarfati’s subjects in the New Life series; where do I go from here? The doubt, withdrawal, and sometimes the quiet determination this query rouses, is remarkably palpable in every picture” (Artnet). These photos, named The New Life series, were the subject of her first solo exhibit in the United States in 2005 at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York. That same year, fifty of the photos were published by Twin Palms as The New Life/La Vie Nouvelle. The publisher described this work as “…a loose, layered and intensely rich visual project that allows us, the viewers, to consider the complexities of any place or time, triggering emotions and thoughts that move well beyond the ostensible subjects of her photographs” (Photo-Eye).
Many of the earlier photographs in Acta Est were of “young transsexuals and teenage runaways interned in 're-education' camps” (Liber on Web), while the US images seem to be of every day youth, all seem lacking in motivation and enthusiasm for action. When the images from Russia and the United States are compared, some find that “The charged strangeness of the photographs in The New Life parallels an earlier body of work Sarfati made in Russia during the 1990s. While the geographic, socioeconomic, and political contexts are entirely unique, the suggested narrative of isolation links this body of work with the Russian series. Sarfati avoids nostalgia with respect to her young subjects, identifying instead with their out-of-place feelings” (Golden). Today, Lise Sarfati lives in Paris and has continued her work of unique portraits with a new series labeled Euro Visions with a focus on youth in Lithuania (Magnum).
In addition to her two publications, The New Life/La Vie Nouvelle and Acta Est, and her exhibits in Paris and New York, Lise Sarfati has exhibited her work in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Riverside, California; Copenhagen Denmark; Salamanca, Spain; and London, The United Kingdom. Several museums hold her work in their collections, including The Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She is a member of the Magnum artists’ consortia, where she joins other artists in showcasing and marketing her work on the web.
Influence & Importance
Lise has been working in the field of photography for many years, and over time she has influenced other photographers and society as well. She is not the type of photographer to capitalize on her fame or popularity. She is dedicated to her work and more importantly to the subjects in her photographs.
Lise Sarfati is able to capture emotion, feeling, and life in her photography, which in turn gives light to her subjects. Her photographs and style is traditional, but Lise has a certain quality to herself and her work, which grasps and holds the reader’s attention. Most photographers try to cross the line and go to places where no one has been before, yet Lise goes to where people are every day, and shows us what we overlook on a regular basis.
Lise’s work is also very important to today’s society and modern day times. Through her photographs, Lise gives a voice to people that normally are overlooked. In The New Life, she gives teenagers hope and reality together. Hope for a better life and future and the reality that they are “normal” even though that is not what the media or television tells them. We see this not only in her photographs themselves, but also in the many articles and commentaries dedicated to her. In a prestigious article, Lise’s work is talked about and discussed. “What these experiments lead the photographer to is a deep commonality; we recognize ourselves in these girls and boys, our superficial differences notwithstanding. Sarfati calls this realization transversal—a line that intersects a series of lines. "I wanted to approach a transversal theme with transversal geographic points and cities all over the States," (Sarfati).”
Lise Sarfati's Projects
Lise Safarti has been in the field of photography for a number of years. During her time as a photographer, she has completed many different and special projects. She has greatly contributed to the field of photography and has opened many new doors for women and photographers all around the world. Some of her most famous projects include her books, exhibitions, photo series, and her most recent project, La Vie Nouvelle, is probably her most popular famous piece.
In 1996, after the death of Marguerite Duras, Lise took pictures of the famous writer’s apartment and house. She named this project Post Factum and these pictures mainly gave insight to the intimacy and private life that Duras led. This was one of her first notable projects that she worked on, and this series of photographs was highly praised by the public (EuroVisions).
Les Révolutions Invisibles
In 1998 Lise and other photographers and scholars collectively worked on the book France-les révolutions invisibles (also known as “Invisible Revolutions”) Lise along with her co-authors contributed their own personal view in the book. Although she was only a co-author of this book, it did help her to break out into the mainstream photography world (EuroVisions).
In 2000, Lise’s first book, Acta Est, was put together. The title references the Latin phrase “Acta Est Fabula” which translates to “the play is over”. The photographs in this book were taken during her time in Russia and the photos are no only aesthetically pleasing, but they are filled with emotion and intensity as well. Although the book only consists of 46 photographs, it is not lacking any substance or content (EuroVisions)
La Vie Nouvelle
La Vie Nouvelle, also called The New Life, is a project Lise began in 2003. Lise went on a three-month trip to the United States, and here she took pictures of about 80 adolescents in the context of their everyday, individual lives. She traveled across the states and took photographs in bedrooms, backyards, stores, markets, and parks. The New Life focuses on the teenagers of America, and Lise took every picture without manipulating the situation or person. Every emotion in every teenager is real and vivid. What Lise discovered, and shared with the rest of the world, is that average, everyday teenagers are not anything like those seen in movies or depicted on television. Her pictures display the boredom, fear, anxiety and other emotions that each teenager experiences during their teen years. <http:// blogs.telegraph.co.uk/arts/frameofmind/sep07/youth.htm> (Blogs.telegraph)
This series has gained a lot of attention from photographers along with the public. BBC, a popular television station in England said "Lise Sarfati's The American Series presents the less accessible world of teenagers. Shot through with self-consciousness, they stare pensively into middle distance. Or perhaps they're bored, constantly mooching from lounge to bedroom universes. Quietly emotive music, accompanying a slide show of repeating characters, enhances the subtle sense of story. But these aren't the mythologized American teens of American Pie, they're more Ghost World ? aloof, challenging and uncertain. Unnervingly isolated and inert, they seem trapped but poised as if to run off any minute." (Schaden)
Some of Lise's Popular Exhibitions
1996 Prix Niépce, Centre National de la Photographie, Paris, France.
1997 Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Châlon-sur-Saône, France.
2001 Oublier l’exposition (group show), Fondation Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
2002 Post factum, Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles, France.
2002 Acta Est, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France.
2004–2006 Lise Sarfati, Domus Artium, Salamanca, Spain; Yossi Milo Gallery,
New York, USA; Nicolaj Center of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, Denmark.
2005 American Series, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK.
4th arrod. “Chatelet” station
This photograph is from Lise’s work in the book “Invisible Revolutions” in 1998. This picture is in Paris, France in the subway at the Chatelet station. The book “Invisible Revolutions” was created by many different photographers and each provided their own interpretation of what they believed and thought about France’s society. This picture displays the bare tracks and the rundown subway station. By looking at this photograph you can see the lifelessness and bareness in this subway station. The purpose of this photograph is to show the viewer the dullness and sterility of France’s society. There is no life or excitement here, only a dilapidated subway station.
This photograph is of a young man eating a banana in his recliner chair. This photo is from her first book, Acta Est, and is from one of her travels to Russia. In this picture she is trying to create a story, a type of drama or play. That was her intent for her novel, to have people imagine storylines or plots. This picture itself may not seem very shocking or striking, yet the viewer can imagine and explore multiple stories or situations in which this man belongs. Lise is provoking the reader in this picture.
Untitled # 4 from Marguerite Duras’ home
This photograph is of the small bathroom located in Marguerite Duras’ home. When she died Lise took photographs of all of the places in her home and apartment. In this photo we see a small, slightly decorated, homey bathroom. This lets the reader look into Margureite’s life and realize that she lived like any other normal person did. The purpose of this picture is to show the simplicity in the living standards of Ms. Duras and through this photograph, Lise helps the reader relate themselves to this famous author.
This photograph was made in October 2003 during Lise Sarfati’s visit to Hollywood, California to shoot her American series of portraits of young people who appear to be suspended in time in their local environments. Reviewers have suggested that the youth in The American series are pondering an uncertain future in a state of ennui. “Mark” captures this world-weariness and appears to lack even the energy to smoke his cigarette. He does not face the camera and his positioning against an exterior brick wall is suggestive of his thoughts about the dead-end possibilities of his future. The geometric background of horizontal bricks and boards and diagonal shadows from the upper right create a simplistic frame for the human figure in the photo. His twenty-something clothing, armband, and detailed bracelet add interesting detail to the photo, while the green of his T-shirt is echoed by the tint of the shadows to his right. This photo was exhibited as part of the New Life exhibits in the United States and Europe.
Like “Mark,” “Olga” was captured on film in 2003 in Hollywood, California. She too is photographed outside, but her background is a complex street scene that appears to be deserted except for the anonymous blur of cars moving by on the left. Leaning lightly against what appears to be a bench, perhaps a bus stop, “Olga” is in a languid state and appears uninterested in any of her surroundings. The green traffic light in the background and the moving cars contrast her immobility. The photo appears to have been taken in the early hours of the day with the sun still low on the horizon, casting a shadow on the wall behind “Olga.” The strong horizontal lines of the street, the bench, and the wall to her right, along with “Olga’s” positioning in the forefront of the photo emphasize her presence as the main subject of a photo, overpowering the many distracting elements around her in the composition. This portrait was included in Sarfati’s book The New Life as plate #48.
“Kathryn” is another California portrait. Unlike “Mark” and “Olga,” she is photographed inside, in a reclining position. Again, the subject is not looking at the camera, but gazing through half-closed eyes at something past her feet. The composition is simple, with “Kathryn” and the couch, but there are some small interesting details, such as what appears to be a cord to an electronics device, perhaps a computer, draped on the arm of the couch behind her head and what may be a boom box in the upper right of the photo. “Kathryn” appears to be in that state we experience just before dozing off to sleep or when we are just waking, but there is no hint of movement. It is curious that she wears a watch, since she seems to have no interest in time passing. Her clothes are casual and her black T-shirt makes her body contrast with the gold sofa backdrop. “Kathryn” was photographed in 2003 in Oakland, California and this photo is plate #25 in The New Life.
The setting for this photograph shifts from California to New Orleans, Louisiana, but the demeanor of the girl suggests the same lethargy as her California counterparts. It seems that “Gaelyn” could have been sitting on the bed for hours with no call to action. Her surroundings suggest that someone is interested in art and photography with the art calendar hanging by the door, the artistic print on the wall to her right, what appear to be art supplies in the bottom left, and a door full of photographs. Again, why have a calendar to track time when it seems that “Gaelyn” is content to have the days slip by without moving from her bed. The door is cracked a bit with light sneaking through, but even though she is dressed in a coat, apparently ready to go outside, it is doubtful that “Gaelyn” will be leaving anytime soon. Although the composition of this photograph is somewhat complex, the blues and grays reinforce the stillness, broken only by the golds of the poster and the artwork in the corner behind the door. “Gaelyn’s” reddish hair and white T-shirt are the only things that keep her from slipping into the background of the photo. Created in 2003, this photo was included in The New Life as plate #41.