OCT 31-DEC 5, 2020

This masterclass offers the rare chance to get artistically mentored this fall by a defining voice in contemporary narrative photography, with acclaimed French artist Lise Sarfati to teach a small group of 12 photographers how to craft overarching stories and open meaning in their work through online lectures, in-depth reviews, and guided practice.

To kick off her class Lise will present some of her 30-year career’s most iconic series, drawing out the inspirations and methods behind their making. Participants will get the chance to ask questions and take an active part in Lise’s conversations.

Following Lise will conduct individual reviews of each participant’s work and offer new perspectives to expand their intended narrative into a fuller form. In complement to these detailed reviews, she will also hand out individual shooting assignments designed to encourage trailblazing outside of participants’ comfort zones, with the ultimate goal of creating space for multiple interpretations in both single images and as a sequence. The resulting 10-15 new images each participant will produce (digitally or analogically) will be accompanied by a short text highlighting their intent and be reviewed in a group setting for feedback. The assignments will provide an ideal framework to further reflect on the process of selection of images, sequencing, and the exploration of different narrative threads.

Thanks to Lise’s high-caliber critical feedback and creative leadership, participants will leave her class with a deepened understanding of their narrative practice, equipped with new materials and directions to continue exploring in their future work.


Presented below are a few key program highlights in description of the activities to take place during Lise’ masterclass. A fully detailed masterclass program including the list of materials to have ready before the start of the class, logins to upload portfolios and Zoom invitations, as well as any planned pre-assignments is provided once enrolment is confirmed.

• Sequencing images to create open narratives
• Editing long-term projects
• The dynamics of space, subject and photographer during the photographic act
• The process of scouting people and locations
• Matching form and content in a project, from print sizes to installation strategies
• How to approach subjects to create meaningful portraits
• The idea of a “character” in photographic and cinematic narratives
• How to navigate the “confrontation with reality” during a project
• participants get their final edits & texts published in a special Masterclass JRNL Print Edition
and receive a free copy in the mail


© Cover image: © Lise Sarfati, oh man.phg7_07 2013, from the series & Book Oh Man (2018, Steidl Books)

© Lise Sarfati, oh man.phg9_08 2013

© Lise Sarfati, oh man.phg14_08 2013

© Lise Sarfati, oh man.phg10_12 2012

© Lise Sarfati, oh man.phg20_06 2012


Lise Sarfati (born 1958) is a French photographer and artist. She is noted for her photographs of elusive characters, often young, who resist being confined by definitions. Her work particularly explores the instability of feminine identity. Most recently, Sarfati’s photographs have focused on the relationship between individuals and the urban landscape. She has extensively worked in Russia and the United States. Sarfati’s work has met international critical acclaim and is held in major public and private collections, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; LACMA, Los Angeles; SF MoMA, CA; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; De Young Museum, San Francisco; Pier 24, San Francisco; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; Harry Ramson Center, University of Texas at Austin, TX; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris; and the Wilson Center of Photography, London. Sarfati has been awarded the Prix Niepce (1996) and ICP Infinity Award (1996). Between 1996 and 2011, she was a member of Magnum Photos. Sarfati is currently represented by Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.

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Since its origins, photography has always sought to document, but also to distance itself from that purpose. The very revealing work of Lise Sarfati lies exactly at the edge of both fields, between reality and fiction. Drawing on cinema and literature, her photographs conjure richly layered worlds often centered on specific “characters”, which avoid any fixed narratives and allow viewers to inhabit a space of multiple interpretations.

From 1989 to 1998, she lived in Russia, capturing the atmosphere of a country in transition. Her images of urban ruins and characters in interior spaces led to her first major body of work, Acta Est (2000) published by Phaidon. The series’ poetic approach set itself apart from the category of photojournalism and laid the groundwork for Sarfati’s later interest on the lives of young people.

In 2003, she travelled across the United States photographing adolescents in the cities of Austin (TX) Asheville (NC), Portland (OR), New Orleans (LO), Berkeley, Oakland and Los Angeles (CA). Her resulting series The New Life (2005) published by Twin Palms Publishers affirmed her approach to open narratives, depicting young characters and their feeling of being out of step with the world. As curator Javier Panera Cuevas has aptly described it, Sarfati “carefully rations the information that she gives out about each character, forcing us to decide each one’s destiny subjectively”. Her subsequent American projects Austin, Texas (2008), On Hollywood (2010) and She (2012) further explored her interests on psychogeography, feminine identity, and the everyday.

With Oh Man (2017), a series of richly detailed tableaux depicting lonesome men walking in downtown Los Angeles, Sarfati departs from her accustomed 35mm format, opting for a 4×5 view camera. The urban theme, the relationship between individuals and architecture, is the strength of this series, which draws from the legacy of the great photographer Walker Evans and his street scenes. The large-format prints enlarge the space for contemplation, inviting the viewer to explore what is hidden in these deceptively simple images.