Sophie Calle (born 1953) is a French writer, photographer, installation artist, and conceptual artist. Calle's work is distinguished by its use of arbitrary sets of constraints, and evokes the French literary movement of the 1960s known as Oulipo. Her work frequently depicts human vulnerability, and examines identity and intimacy. She is recognized for her detective-like ability to follow strangers and investigate their private lives. Her photographic work often includes panels of text of her own writing.
Calle began working as an artist in the 1970s, after traveling the world for seven years. When she returned to Paris, the city in which she was born, she recalls feeling isolated and lost; this isolation inspired her to investigate the lives of the people around her. Her first photographs were of graves marked simply mother and father.
Although much of her work employs voyeurism, Calle has allowed her own life to be put on display as well. She became so intrigued by following her unwitting subjects that she wanted to reverse the relationship, and become the subject herself. She asked her mother to hire a private detective to follow her, without the detective knowing that she had arranged it, with the hopes that his investigation would provide photographic evidence of her existence.
In Suite Venitienne (1979), Calle followed a man she met at a party in Paris to Venice, where she disguised herself and followed him around the city, photographing him. Calle’s surveillance of the man, who she identifies only as Henri B., includes photographs accompanied by text.
The following year, Calle organized The Sleepers, a project in which she invited 24 people to occupy her bed continuously for eight days. Some were friends, or friends of friends, and some were strangers to her. She served them food and photographed them every hour.
One of Calle's first projects to generate public controversy was Address Book (1983). The French daily newspaper Libération invited her to publish a series of 28 articles. Having recently found an address book on the street (which she photocopied and returned to its owner), she decided to call some of the telephone numbers in the book and speak with the people about its owner. To the transcripts of these conversations, Calle added photographs of the man's favorite activities, creating a portrait of a man she never met, by way of his acquaintances. The articles were published, but upon discovering them, the owner of the address book, a documentary filmmaker named Pierre Baudry, threatened to sue the artist for invasion of privacy. As Calle reports, the owner discovered a nude photograph of her, and demanded the newspaper publish it, in retaliation for what he perceived to be an unwelcome intrusion into his private life.
In order to execute her project The Hotel (1981), she was hired as a chambermaid at a hotel in Venice where she was able to explore the writings and objects of the hotel guests. Insight into her process and its resulting aesthetic can be gained through her account of this project: "I spent one year to find the hotel, I spent three months going through the text and writing it, I spent three months going through the photographs, and I spent one day deciding it would be this size and this frame...it's the last thought in the process."
Another of Calle's noteworthy projects is titled The Blind (1986), for which she interviewed blind people, and asked them to define beauty. Their responses were accompanied by her photographic interpretation of idea of beauty, and portraits of the interviewees.
Calle has created elaborate display cases of birthday presents given to her throughout her life; this process was detailed by Gregoire Bouillier in his memoir The Mystery Guest: An Account (2006). According to Bouillier, the premise of his story was that "A woman who has left a man without saying why calls him years later and asks him to be the 'mystery guest' at a birthday party thrown by the artist Sophie Calle. And by the end of this fashionable—and utterly humiliating—party, the narrator figures out the secret of their breakup."
In 1996, Calle released a film titled No Sex Last Night which she created in collaboration with American photographer Gregory Shephard. The film documents their road trip across America, which ends in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Rather than following the genre conventions of a road trip or a romance, the film is designed to document the result of a man and woman who barely knew each other, embarking on an intimate journey together.
Calle asked writer and filmmaker Paul Auster to "invent a fictive character which I would attempt to resemble" and served as the model for the character Maria in Auster’s novel Leviathan (1992). This mingling of fact and fiction so intrigued Calle that she created the works of art created by the fictional character, which included a series of color-coordinated meals.
Auster later challenged Calle to create and maintain a public amenity in New York. The artist's response was to augment a telephone booth (on the corner of Greenwich and Harrison streets in Manhattan) with a note pad, a bottle of water, a pack of cigarettes, flowers, cash, and sundry other items. Every day, Calle cleaned the booth and restocked the items, until the telephone company removed and discarded them. This project is documented in The Gotham Handbook (1998).
In Room with a View (2003), Calle spent the night in a bed installed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. She invited 28 people to come to her and read her bedtime stories in order to keep her awake through the night. The same year, Calle had her first one-woman show at the Musée National d'Art Moderne at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
At her gallery shows, Calle frequently supplies suggestion forms on which visitors are encouraged to furnish ideas for her art, while she sits beside them with a disinterested expression.
Biographical information from Wikipedia