Oh Man is a series of seventeen large-format photographs, fifteen in color and two in black and white, created in Los Angeles from 2012 to 2013. Like Lise Sarfati’s previous series The New Life (2003), She (2009) and On Hollywood (2010), Oh Man is also set in the urban landscape. In this new work Sarfati rejects the romantic picturesque. She continues to pursue a body of work which posesses a certain interior complexity and can neither be narrowed down to a singular or global perspective nor be perceived as an object.
Sarfati quotes Baudelaire regarding the series: “in certain almost supernatural states of the soul, the profundity of life reveals itself entirely in the spectacle, however ordinary it may be, before one's eyes. It becomes its Symbol.” She invests the city in a personal and metaphoric way. She rethinks what already exists. A primal vitality, visceral, unrestrainable, arising from rootlessness—men walking and the radical indifference of their bodies—occupies the empty heart of Los Angeles. She creates an image which is always engaged in a discourse with the viewer, an image in which we can project ourselves yet also feel free. The whole series is bathed in a solar light. This luminous point of view acts as an illumination on the image as if to light our vision. Sarfati worked very precisely on the choice of this intense solar light : “I worked on the distance to create an ambiguous link in the relationship between the man and the landscape. My images are large format but through their equilibrium allow the viewer total freedom to engage with the landscape or the human figure.”
The figures in the photographs, characters like those she defined in her series The New Life, She and On Hollywood, are ghostly here. Oh Man creates an uncanny feeling : the men are both anonymous and somehow familiar. They are filmed by surveillance cameras and become a detail of the virtual landscape. What J.G. Ballard, one of Lise Sarfati's references, concerning computerized surveillance systems calls : "an Orwellian nightmare come true, but disguised as a public service."
Oh Man gives us the feeling that we could be downtown in any US megalopolis. The American urban landscape in Sarfati's photographs scrolls along, the warehouses like a long list of signs without affect: United States Post Office, NAB Sound, Toys, Clothing, Handbag, Cosmetics.
Throughout her different series, Sarfati never ceases to interrogate herself on the void and the relationship between the man and the outside world. InOh Man we are swayed by the ambiguous sensation of the landscape, between the attraction to the void and the enjoyment of the space crossed by the walking man.
Published by Twin Palms Publishers. Essay by Quentin Bajac.
"A family album preserves only carefully selected photographs. Out of an entire life, it stores only handpicked moments, privileging special occasions, displaying only happy moments. It tends to underline a group’s social links, to highlight a shared life. None of this figures in She: instead of a chronology, time is stopped. There is no group photo or desire to stage a collective destiny, only isolated models and individuals who do not seem to communicate amongst themselves; no happy moments or picturesque places, only indifferent moments in ordinary places. The models pose, but reservedly, often without looking into the camera. And even when we do see their faces, we don’t really seem to see them. When we close the book and think a bit about it, we cannot but see She as the anti-family album par excellence." —Quentin Bajac, Chief Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art
Published by Twin Palms Publishers. Text by Olga Medvedkova.
"Sarfati’s (born 1958) work is defined through an opposition to the editorial urge to fix narratives to her subjects. Her images create a loose, layered and intensely rich visual project triggering emotions and thoughts that move well beyond her ostensible subjects. Sarfati’s importance in today’s debates about the role and visual languages of socially engaged photography also rests in her resistance to fully objectify the subjects that compel her to make imagery. The American Series represents one of those rare experiences for photographers where the photographs almost—just—happened. Sarfati did not overly choreograph her subjects; she also created the psychological space for them, in turn, to act upon her and to act up—or down—for the camera. This perhaps accounts for Sarfati’s success in re-presenting American young people as simply, individually and universally the carriers of states of minds." —Clare Grafik, Photographers Gallery, London