Lise Sarfati in AnOther Magazine

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Who? Photographer Lise Sarfati is an eclectic and unusual amalgamation of cultures and influences. Born in France, and starting her photographic career aged just 13, she followed the completion of her Russian Masters degree at the Sorbonne with a decade in the Soviet Union, before moving to California in 2003. She now splits her time between Paris and the United States, with much of her work being inspired by the people and culture of her adopted nation, particularly focused on life in small-town America, where she can create relationships with her subjects, gain their trust and create a true portrait of their lives. Her latest exhibition, She, is currently at the Brancolini Grimaldi gallery in London.

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

What? In She, Sarfati revisits two sisters, Sloane and Sasha, who had been the subject of an earlier series, along with their mother Christine and her sister Gina. She focuses on the minutiae of their daily existence, capturing them slumped on the sofa in their living rooms, emerging out of the front door, waiting at pedestrian crossings and shopping in local stores. Yet while these activities shown are normal, banal even, the pictures themselves are riven with a sense of melancholy, of near-madness, of tragedies hinted at yet untold. Under the clarity of Sarfati’s lens, with its Eggleston-style lines and compositions, the outward personas of these slim, attractive women start to unravel, and a discomfiting darkness emerges. A shot of Christine topless in the desert takes on new meaning when it is revealed that she is high on magic mushrooms, as does the shot where she is wearing a wedding dress – a garment that she owns yet has never worn for real. Sasha, who only appears twice, is palpably uncomfortable in the camera’s glare, and Sloane, who appears most frequently, is shown in a number of different guises; wigs and make-up transforming her appearance but never muting the shadows lurking behind her eyes.

Why? Sarfati is adept at placing herself on the peripheries of others’ lives, capturing deceptively simple images that, on closer inspection, exude a strangeness, an alienation, that belies their superficial banality. The four characters in the series, related by blood, similar in physique and appearance, are fashioned into what Sarfati describes as “a woman with four heads.” Despite always being shot separately, they are inextricably intertwined with each other: with questions formed and answers given by the offsetting of their differences, and the tensions of their similarities. Through this, Sarfati has created not simply a portrait of a family, but also a universal meditation on many facets of being a woman today.

She is at the Brancolini Grimaldi gallery until March 17.

Text by Tish Wrigley

Text and image from AnOther Magazine.