Born in Oran, French Algeria, Sarfati grew up in Nice, France, graduating in Russian from the Sorbonne in 1979 with a thesis on Russian photography. In 1986, she became the official photographer for the Académie des Beaux Arts. From 1989 to 1998, she lived in Russia, photographing decaying industrial sites and abandoned young people[clarification needed] in Moscow, Norilsk and Vorkuta. Her first book, Acta Est, presents 43 of her Russian photographs and explains her imaginative appreciation of deterioration, change and beauty.
In 2003, she photographed solitary young adults in the United States as she travelled through Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oregon, and California. They all appear to lack enthusiasm for action. The works were first presented as The New Life at New York’s Yossi Milo Gallery in 2005 and were published as The New Life/La Vie Nouvelle.