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Lise Sarfati: New York Times

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On Hollywood


Published: March 24, 2012

I began with the concept of psychogeographical dérive, an approach analyzed by the French writer Guy Debord.

He defined psychogeography as the study of the precise effects of geographical surroundings on the emotions and behavior of individuals.

This dérive is the process I used to experience brief stays in a variety of atmospheres. In Los Angeles I drifted through Hollywood, staying several months. I did not scout locations like a director of photography or an artist hungry for new surroundings. I strove to find places where I would feel good physically, places that would affect me emotionally.

These places were street corners, sidewalk strips, recesses. Nothing extraordinary; on the contrary, very often quite banal.

My series “On Hollywood” shows women who really live in Los Angeles. They probably came to project themselves in the Hollywood landscape and to take advantage of the possibilities of success in this landscape. Hollywood interested me more for the concept of landscape as fantasy.

They are very real, and in different ways they seem to be the targets of a strange fatality. They shine in a very peculiar way. Like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s fireflies.

Lise Sarfati is a French-born photographer who lives in the United States. Her upcoming exhibitions “On Hollywood” and “She” will be at the Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.

To see a slideshow of more images from SHE series please visit the New York Times website

Lise Sarfati in La Lettre

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Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd, 2010 © Lise Sarfati, Courtesy Lise Sarfati, ROSEGALLERY, los angeles

Rosegallery, Los Angeles is presenting back to back exhibitions of On Hollywood and She, confirming Lise Sarfati's talent and status among the small circle of French artists who have succesfully exported their work.

Lise Sarfati arrives in New York in 2003. She leaves for New Orleans to start her series The New Life (Twin Palms, Publisher 2005). She travels through several small towns in Texas, Arizona, California and Oregon. She returns to Los Angeles in 2009 and 2010 to photograph the women she crossed paths with on Hollywood's boulevards.

While She is an intimate and complex game of mirrors between four women, two times two sisters, On Hollywood focuses on the landscape. The two series follow one another but are not alike. They are part of a puzzle Lise Sarfati is patiently, endlessly creating. The female characters share certain traits : they are both fragile and strong, they live on the fringe of society, they project themselves in a reality only they seem to have the key to. For On Hollywood the encounters took place using a precise approach. The women in this series are vulnerable but they are women who are struggling for their survival : dancers, junkies, actresses looking for a part, out-of-towners. Sarfati chose these women for their personalities, their auras, their marginal lifestyles. "They are real and it is their emotional dimension which attracted me to them." One has the feeling that these women float through life like ghosts. There is never a direct gaze into the lens. "The viewer is the only one watching and letting his or her eye wander on the surface of the image. This gives the image its own autonomy. The women are as essential as the landscape." She chooses her locations without a camera, only using her eye, returning numerous times to the same place because she feels comfortable there.

The simplicity of the boulevard amazes her.

For this series, Lise Sarfati used Kodachrome 64 film stock which was used in Hollywood movies of the 1940s. It is the last photographic series made with this stock which ceased being produced in June 2009. The last rolls were processed in December 2010.

This series refers as much to the films of David Lynch and Wim Wenders as to the photographs of William Eggleston (for the color) or Harry Callahan (especially his series of street portraits called : Women Lost in Thought). But Lise Sarfati has completely assimilated these influences. Her strong visual signature, linked to a feeling of interiority, is both modern and identifiable as her own. And the beauty and accuracy of her work make us follow her willingly.

In France, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) is preparing a retrospective of her work for 2014. A book on the series She is due in the spring or summer of 2012 (Twin Palms Publisher).

Christophe Lunn

On Hollywood : from February 25th to March 26th She : from March 31st to May 8th

View the full article here

Lise Sarfati in Time Lightbox

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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.”

Lise Sarfati is a French artist living and working in the United States. Her two new exhibitions On Hollywood and She open on Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at the Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.

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Lise Sarfati Interview

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Lise Sarfati On Hollywood.

Interview by François Adragna.

Malaïka #09, Corner 7th Street & Spring, 2010 Courtesy of  Lise Sarfati and ROSEGALLERY

What is a photographic series?

It is a set of photographs which are linked to each other and which create a whole. Something which shuts us in and in which we cannot find the exit. It is also a way of thinking. A form.

Is On Hollywood a series?

On Hollywood is a series. But each photograph can be looked at individually. It is a series because the images interrelate and reinforce the photographic form.

When did you start this series?

I started it in 2009 and finished it in 2010.

The colors and texture of your photographs have a particular quality. What film did you use?

I worked with Kodachrome 64 transparency film. The rolls were sent to Kansas in the only laboratory which still developed this film. I never saw the results immediately. I realized that this element of not seeing, not knowing, was a determining factor. This situation : where I had to wait and did not know brought me back to the mystery I felt when I discovered photography at the age of 13. A revelation, but after the fact. This Kodachrome film stock is also the one used in Hollywood movies of the 1940s. I wanted to complete the loop and end the story of Kodachrome film on Hollywood. I used this outmoded film stock in the context of Hollywood, which is at the peak of technological advancement and colossal production costs.

I was not part of a huge Hollywood production but on a boulevard where I photographed real women (without paying them, this I insist on in my work) who are considered outsiders.

Their weaknesses became their strength ,raising them to the rank of anti-heroes. It is true that film, photography and video have surpassed painting and sculpture and that it may seem odd to return to Kodachrome slides when analog film, photography and video have been overtaken by the digital format. But it is precisely this paradox which interested me.

One often wrongfully compares photographs to paintings. This is nonsense. The image does not refer to painting but to something alive through which passes silence...

Dana, 6323 Hollywood Blvd, 2010 Courtesy of  Lise Sarfati and ROSEGALLERY

Finally, why not a movie?

Because of the silence and stillness, because of the power of the fixed image and its circulation as an object.

On Hollywood is the boulevard but it is also movies?

Everything transits through the image. We are shaped by the image. We need to try and have a critical gaze on the image.

My series On Hollywood shows women who really live in Los Angeles.

They probably came to project themselves in the Hollywood landscape and to take advantage of the possibilities of success in this landscape. But everyone knows this story. It is a current affair. Hollywood interested me more for the concept of landscape as fantasy. These women smoked in general. They are mostly dancers or actresses waiting for a part.

Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd, 2010 Courtesy of  Lise Sarfati and ROSEGALLERY

Why smoking?

Because smoking in the United States of America and in California is a revolutionary act. To show that one does not care, that one does what one pleases despite obvious health risks, is already an act of protest.

What seems strange is that these women need to be outdoors to smoke whereas smoking, for me, was always something that took place during a romantic or friendly encounter, or we simply smoked as teenagers, sitting around a table talking.

To have to be outside, on the boulevard, in the forgotten landscape of Hollywood to smoke seemed astonishing.

Everyone was behind the wheel of their car. These women did not have enough money to buy a car. I met Ajibike at midnight. I was photographing another woman in a parking lot. She came by in a pair of shorts. She was muscular and walked fast. She handed me her card in a decisive way, as if it was something obvious... She also wanted to become an image...

Elisabeth, North West Corner Sunset & Poinsettia, 2010 Courtesy of  Lise Sarfati and ROSEGALLERY

Who are these women?

These are women who work in Hollywood : saleswomen, dancers, strippers, junkies, fetishists, unknown actresses, out-of-towners, lost... Women at the end of their rope.

Many identify themselves with actresses or famous people. In fact I understood that they identified themselves with images. Malaïka was similar to Marilyn Monroe even if she did not say it. She was always expecting us to make the connection though. She had many of Marilyn's attitudes : her giddiness, mood swings which would go from very sad to artificial joy... Elizabeth wore a tattoo with the date of Queen Elizabeth's death. Her face, her makeup, the thinness of her eyebrows and her pale skin were reminiscent of the Queen mother and the imagery linked to her representation...

How would you define the Hollywood landscape?

The Hollywood landscape is elastic. Timeless. The 1930s, the 1950s, the 1970s. A series of locations without end, all real, accumulated next to each other. Or images of locations which stream by you on the boulevards.

I was always told that Hollywood was dirty and full of junkies. Maybe this was behind the scenes : a masked landscape where thousands of women with eye-opening stories were hiding.

How was the idea for the series conceived?

In 2003, when I travelled across the United States to create The New Life, I decided to return to Los Angeles to photograph the women I passed by on the boulevard. It was unconscious, just a desire.

But the idea took several years to grow and take on a precise form. Although they were photographed in the Hollywood landscape, I wanted the series to give the impression that these women felt at home there, like they were in their bedrooms, lost in thought.

Kelly, 4306 Beverly Blvd, 2010 Courtesy of  Lise Sarfati and ROSEGALLERY

How did this idea evolve and how did you materialize it?

When I spent a year in Aix en Provence, in the southeast of France, I was part of a group of situationists which was very theoretical. The concept of psycho-geographical wandering, created by Guy Debord, was our main activity. Guy Debord defines psycho-geography as the study of the precise effects of geographical surroundings on the emotional behavior of individuals. And wandering is a technique to experience brief sojourns in a variety of atmospheres.

In Los Angeles I wandered through Hollywood. I stayed several months. I did not wander like a director of photography or an artist seeking new locations. I just tried to find places where I felt good physically, places which affected my emotional behavior. These places were street corners, bits of sidewalk and small spaces... I returned ten, twenty, fifty times to the same place.

I stayed for a long time on the corner where we see Elizabeth near a shop where they sell grass and near a tobacco shop. All of a sudden, Elizabeth, whom I did not know, arrived. I asked her if I could photograph her. She told me she would be back. I saw her get into the back seat of a car. Two men were in the front, one of them at the wheel. The car disappeared.

I figured she took off with some dealers. She returned and I photographed her. She seemed quite scared. She was thin. She wore a pendant with a small butterfly. She had braces on her teeth that fascinated me because of her age... I took my photograph quickly. I had the feeling she was going to fall over she looked so fragile... Then she said she had to leave, I asked if we could see each other again, she said : "Yes." We made an appointment on Hollywood Boulevard and she finally never showed up.

Did you encounter any difficulties?

Creating a series is always like standing in front of a chain of mountains of difficulties and overcoming them...

Ajibike, 6433 Hollywood Blvd, 2010 Courtesy of  Lise Sarfati and ROSEGALLERY

The uniqueness of your work is based on the gaze. It reminds me of Roland Barthes who said : « The gaze, if it insists (if it lasts, if it traverses, with the photograph, Time) the gaze is always potentially crazy : it is at once the effect of truth and the effect of madness. »

Truth and madness. Subjectivity. No, I think I first start with a subjective mental image and I try to make it cross through reality, I project it on the outside world. I expect from the viewer, that they will project their subjectivity into the image as well. Also, I hate explaining my work. It is made to be looked at.

Your rhythm could be defined as an oscillation between the character and the landscape but we never really know which one you choose...

Yes, I try to vacillate from one to the other... It is a construction which resembles me. It is also an idea or a way of life.

On Hollywood at ROSEGALLERY, Los Angeles, 25th February until 26 March, 2012

All images Copyright Lise Sarfati Courtesy of ROSEGALLERY

Lise Sarfati in Huff Post

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Parisian-born Lise Sarfati has shown internationally and her predominantly female subjects are utterly uneventful and hugely momentous at once.

ROSEGALLERY will show back to back venues, first opening Feb. 25th with works from Sarfati's series On Hollywood, followed in March by the stunning photos from She.

Sarfati has made images of empty rooms, taken from the level of bed-height, where blankets, pillows, bed stands, knick-knacks, the chosen stuff of life -- none arranged -- speak multitudes.

That same uncanny, oblique entry point that ends somehow in riveting vision characterizes her images of women. On Hollywood features, predictably, views of the broken in and around Hollywood. Swollen, used up, tired in a way someone that age ought not be, Malaika looks beyond us, a bagged booze bottle in an arm that melds with the smudge of night neon.

Yes, it has been done and done again by everyone from Robert Frank to Philip-Lorca diCorcia. And to some extent this is another iteration of that puffy eyed, densely made up, hung over, hooking and preening, acquiring and being acquired broken dream world of the bleached blond and dominatrix come west to seek the promise land.

But the difference here is that these starkly colored, crystalline clear images are so flat-footedly compelling -- in that Eggleston kind of matter-of-fact way -- that any existing, stored narrative we might want to plug in, conjure up, or default to simply fails us in the face of the person that confronts the camera.

There are photographers -- Graciela Iturbide -- who beautifully disappear from the image -- so deep is their empathic connection with their subjects. Sarfati's particular gift -- part sixth sense, part serious study of the cinematic vision of Vertov or Pasolini -- is precisely the opposite.

There is a way in which her subjects never lose sight of themselves being watched, never can and may not want to shake loose their position -- existential, social, photographic -- as objects. Sarfati's women acknowledge, even seem in some way defiant conspirators in our relentless scopophilic use of them.


The result is that Dana - -standing before a broken down theater, tattooed, in grotesquely high heels -- entices us to look (and we do!), lives for and through our inability to resist taking her in visually, yet is somehow deeply sullied by the exchange. As a subtle study of the complexities of female identity (and the negotiations of intimacy and self in general), this work is quite profound; as photography these images are just plain aesthetically gorgeous. Once again, ROSEGALLERY brings us some of the finest international photography around.

Images courtesy of ROSEGALLERY

Lise Sarfati: Women on the Verge

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After living and working in Russia for 10 years, in 2003 the French-born photographer Lise Sarfati decided to drive across America: “Just a road trip from the east to the west, like in the American tradition of photography, but not with the same spirit,” she explained last year in an interview for the online site ASX. On that first trip she concentrated on the lives of young, middle-class women, much the same kind of people who might make up the audience for her pictures. She hoped viewers would identify with her subjects, who in the mutability of their appearance – dress, hair colour and make-up – expressed the fragile sense of personal identity in a society where image is all. Since then she has completed several series of pictures, two of which will be shown next month, one in London, the other in Los Angeles.

Please check out the entire article here from FT Magazine.

Financial Times - Lise Sarfati

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Image courtesy of artist and ROSEGALLERY

Fantastic article for Lise Sarfati's new work. Lise's series She is on view now at Brancolini Grimaldi Gallery in London.

Her On Hollywood series will open at ROSEGALLERY February 25th.

To view full article click here