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photo-eye Book Reviews: She

She. Photographs by Lise Sarfati.
Published by Twin Palms, 2012.
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Photographs by Lise Sarfati
Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, 2012. Hardbound. 120 pp., 52 color illustrations, 14x11".

Lise Sarfati’s latest book, She published by Twin Palms, is a finely crafted book of photographs for those who appreciate pictures with meanings that may not be clear on the first reading. It also features a dynamic essay by Quintin Bajac, the Chief Curator of Photography at MoMA.

The essay frames the work as an anti-family album, since the photographs are made of four women, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The models, Sasha, Sloane (sisters), their mother Christine and her sister Gina, are shown in a variety of scenes in American West. Depending on how the family dynamic is read will determine how the viewer constructs the narrative. The essay brings together the work in a framework that is clear and mysterious at the same time. It is open to the viewer to define the relationships. The essay helps the viewer navigate the space in between the pictures.

She, by Lise Sarfati. Published by Twin Palms Publishers, 2012.
Sarfati’s pictures, as explained by Bajac, are not staged but situations set in plain and non-descript locations. The 52 pictures, made between 2005 and 2009, go back and forth in time. In places, the locations are repeated but something is always different or askew. Bajac states that there is a resistance between the model and the photographer, and this resistance is essential for Sarfati. Is this resistance clear when reading the pictures? Some of the pictures stand out, while others recede, if I am reading Bajac correctly, those who resist strongly have pictures that are more memorable.

She, by Lise Sarfati. Published by Twin Palms Publishers, 2012.
She, by Lise Sarfati. Published by Twin Palms Publishers, 2012.
Sarfati wields a neutral hand when it comes to creating the scenes she photographs. Pictures like Sloane #22, Gina #09, Sasha #20, Sloane #06, Sloane #68 stand out to me. I realize that Christine (mother/sister) is not on this listed here. For me, the images of Christine have a bit more drama to them than the others. The others are more blank and malleable for Sarfati. They possibly resist more. I tend to think that Christine might be giving in too easily.

I find myself being drawn into the work and exploring the settings. Why is there an Oxford English Dictionary in the background? Are those jellybeans on the mantle? Little details like these are clearer in book form. Details like these are lost on websites. The pictures are deeper in book form.

She, by Lise Sarfati. Published by Twin Palms Publishers, 2012.
The unseen space between the images can create a plot that is not always clear. This lack of narrative clarity gives the book its strength. As an object, the book is stunning. That alone is reason enough to dive into and explore the space in between these women, who are related but always appear alone. The cinematic solitude is what fascinates me and brings me back.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.