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.
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."
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 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 the 2007 Venice Biennale, Sophie Calle showed her piece Take Care of Yourself, named after the last line of the message her ex had left her. Calle had asked dozens of women—including an actress, a clown, and a dancer—to interpret the break-up e-mail and presented the results in the French pavilion.
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.
In novembre 2008, she will participate to an exhibition "Système C, un festival de coincidence" proposed by the Stéréotypes Associés in Mains d'Oeuvres , Paris.