Ajibike, La Baig Avenue, 2010. From the series On Hollywood.
Since 2003, Lise Sarfati has been traveling across the United States, particularly on the west coast, photographing adolescents and women against the vernacular of the American landscape. The exhibitions On Hollywood and She, opening Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at Rose Gallery in Los Angeles, juxtapose subjects against an allegorical landscape that shifts between the real and the fictional. On Hollywood focuses on Los Angeles, while She explores Oakland, but both touch on the notion of fluidity within feminine identity. “I wanted to represent a woman who is both vulnerable and strong, oscillating between promise and despair,” Sarfarti said of her inspirations. “I wanted to give these women a voice, or rather, an image.”
Created from 2009 to 2010, On Hollywood features young women against the backdrop of Hollywood—a fabled place that during its golden era represented the hopes and dreams of aspiring stars. The girls are often pictured in classic Hollywood spaces, dressed casually, but they appear as if caught in an off moment. Sarfati is very precise about who she photographs. The girls juggle multiple jobs—most are dancers. “They are always in motion, and have a particularly difficult life where dependencies on men and drugs merge,” Sarfati says. “[They are] women at the mercy of a strange fate.” The landscape of Hollywood is barren. The women appear lost, unaware of the viewer’s gaze and immersed in their own illusions of the Hollywood myth.
Sarfarti’s earlier series, She, created between 2005 and 2009, is an exploration of two sets of sisters: Christine and Gina, as well as Christine’s daughters, Sasha and Sloane. The series documents their relationships during a period of transition. At the time, Sasha and Sloane had moved from the conservatism of their grandparents’ home to an alternative lifestyle in their mother’s Oakland loft. In an period of re-invention and under the careful gaze of Sarfati’s lens, the girls try to find their identities—Sloane often changes her appearance and seems to enjoy being photographed whereas Sasha, when pictured, is pensive and almost melancholic. “The sisters are isolated, they are alone,” Sarfati says, “It’s the fusion of these four solitudes that creates the series and the story.”
The two older sisters, Christine and Gina, are also also searching. “The mother, Christine, as she appears in my photographs, is threatening, terrifying, but also mysterious and fascinating. She is no longer protective. She is strong. She is independent,” Sarfati says. The older pair of sisters change their hair styles and jobs. Christine is pictured gazing absently in a wedding dress—all four women are constantly in flux. “The women in She reflect one another until you can no longer tell them apart. The only gaze possible is the gaze of the images between themselves,” Sarfati said. “I don’t particularly like mises en scènes. I prefer the search for truth.”