Lise Sarfati – Photographer, U.S.A.


Landscape Stories: Your series She, made between 2005 and 2009, features four American women – two sisters, Sloane and Sasha, their mother Christine and her sister Gina. Can you tell about it?

Lise Sarfati: It’s a construction between four women – two sisters, Gina and Christine who are in their forties, and Christine’s daughters Sasha and Sloane who are in the their twenties. It’s about mirrors and reflections within this group of women.


© Lise Sarfati, Sloane #07 Oakland, CA 2007, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi

© Lise Sarfati, Gina #12 Oakland, CA 2009, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi


LS: In this series what is your relationship with the architecture?
LS: She is about the wooden houses in the ghetto area of Oakland, California which were built in the Victorian period. It’s also about the environment of downtown Oakland which has a very particular kind of architecture.

LS: Can you tell me about your research into women‘s identity?
LS: In the The New Life I was mainly focused on girls of about 15 and 16, rarely boys. She is focused on women and reflections.


© Lise Sarfati, Gina #24 Oakland, CA 2007, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi© Lise Sarfati, Christine #10 Hollywood, CA 2006, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi

© Lise Sarfati, Christine #10 Hollywood, CA 2006, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi


LS: All the works are wonderful, but one of these are my favourite: ‘Christine #04‘ Tell me …
LS: If you read the image in a straight-forward way, you see a mirror, a wedding dress and Christine as central to the image. My work isn’t biographical, but in this case I can say it’s about a wedding which didn’t happen.


© Lise Sarfati, Christine #04 Oakland, CA 2005, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi

LS: Is it different realize a series in USA between an another nation?

LS: Of course it’s different.

LS: You prefer to make your work in small towns where life is slower and you can get to know your subjects. She was shot in four different locations: Oakland, Berkeley; San Francisco; Los Angeles and Phonenix, Arizona. Tell me.

LS: I enjoy being in provincial towns in the States because it appears more interesting to me. I like the architecture and the space. She was made in locations where the women were living and it took four years to make. They moved in this time, but it was mainly made in Oakland, a suburb of San Francisco.


© Lise Sarfati, Sloane #62 Oakland, CA 2007, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi

© Lise Sarfati, Sloane #66 Oakland, CA 2009, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi


LS: Which painters either modern or classical do you look towards for inspiration (also in others your series)?

LS: I don’t think my inspiration comes from painters, but I come from a culture of painting and my first job was as a photographer for Academie des Beaux Arts in Paris.

LS: What is interesting about the period of adolescence?

LS: She is not about adolescence. The New Life was focused on adolescence.


© Lise Sarfati, Gina #09 Berkeley, CA 2009, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi

© Lise Sarfati, Gina #08 Oakland, CA 2009, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi


LS: The use of analogous colors in your work is very distinct and as a result plays a very important role in all of your pictures. Could you describe the relationships between colours in your work?

LS: She was made with colour slide film and I’m very precise when it comes to the use of colour, particularly in my new book, She. I spent a lot to time making sure the colour correction and the balance was as accurate as possible. I wanted to create a series which was a whole entity. I like to use film, not digital. I like to keep the feeling of a photograph rather than something sharp like you would see on screen.

LS: Your pictures reflect a certain cinematic aura. Is part of what your trying to project similar to the approach of the mise-en-scène used by cinematographers?

LS: My approach is not mise-en-scène. I choose the subjects of my photographs very carefully and then work with their energy and my energy. I don’t set them up, or take them out of their life. I am very attached to the authenticity of the situation. I don’t want anything to be overdone or false. This is my tone.

LS: Which cinema do you like and which cinema is a part of your source or inspiration?

LS: Robert Bresson.


© Lise Sarfati, Christine #45 Pioneertown, CA 2008, courtesy Brancolini Grimaldi

LS: The landscape is an important point of your narration. In The New Life

LS: Yes my work is centred on the American landscape especially in She. The ghetto of Oakland is a mirror to the downtown area. In the ghetto you also see interaction between vegetation and the streets – fig trees and cacti are interspersed between the houses. The windows of the wooden houses look like Edward Hopper paintings. The downtown area of Oakland was built during the early 20th century and it has a very particular kind of atmosphere which I like.


She by Lise Sarfati has recently been published by Twin Palms, essay by Quentin Bajac.

Interview curated by Camilla Boemio