BY Julia Gazdag
Elinor Carucci’s newest collection of photography, ‘Mother,’ embodies over nine years of work. Her photos are stunningly direct, open, portraying an intimate family life with unhindered grace and beauty. I recently spoke with Elinor about her book, the images within it, as well as her photographic career:
How did you get started in photography?
I was about fifteen. I think there is a Chinese saying that out of boredom, great things happen. I picked my father’s camera up, and looked for something to photograph, and I wandered into my mother’s bedroom. She had just woken up from an afternoon nap, and I just started taking pictures of her. It was a very special moment, because something very intense and emotional happened to me. My mom is very beautiful and she was someone I admired, so it was a chance to look at her in a different way, not looking necessarily at her as my mom, but as a person. I could just see so much more.
What role does photography have in your life?
It’s about just seeing more. I feel as if I just see more and it connects me to the world, it connects me to people. When I photograph someone all I see is them. It’s a moment of deep concentration or focus. I connect to people with a camera and also to myself, and how I feel and what I feel love, and am inspired by. I fell in love, it’s like falling in love with a man. I really fell in love with photography and how much I loved it. When I started photography I was like, ok, this is it. This is something I want to do for the rest of my life.
Have you been working with the same camera over the last ten years?
No, I actually started with 35mm film, moved to 4×5 film, and then I just switched to digital, so it’s three different cameras. I worked very so hard so they look consistent and have the same look and substance as film. It was important, I needed to learn a lot when I did switch to digital.
How did capturing the pregnancy influence the experience you had of it, do you think?
I don’t know, I had a happy pregnancy. After the c-section, the emergency c-section, I had some hard weeks. And I could just see it, in the images. I think if anything I could see what I couldn’t otherwise see maybe in the way that my parents related to me, that was slightly different. I mean, to look at your – I’m the firstborn, so I’m the eldest child – and to look at your first child and see them turn into a parent is, I think, something that for my parents, and every parent, is a big transition. I could see their awe in the pictures and I couldn’t see it in real life.
How do your children relate to it, especially as they’re growing older? How do you perceive their experience of the moments when they’re very emotional and there’s a camera right in their face?
First, I had to change the way that I photographed. Many of those shots are a one-frame thing, I mean, they were crying or emotional, I took one frame and picked them up. So I had to become really quick and moments that I could capture were precious. The huge majority of them, I didn’t photograph. I ended up looking at the parents around me and thinking that I’m the one that is taking the least photographs. Parents today are taking so many pictures, and they’re also posting them on Facebook and now Instagram, so I don’t think even having so many pictures of them was such a big deal in our era of images everywhere. If anything it did bring up conversations between me and my daughter about the kind of images that I’m taking. She asked me why I don’t take pretty images, and actually, with all my fears, I think it led to good conversations about me telling her that these, for me, are beautiful moments, and everything we have in our family, also the difficult days, or the bad days, or the yelling days, are beautiful and inspirational and I embrace them. It ended up being a good message for the kids.
These photos are very visceral and communicate those moments clearly. How do you get to that place with these pictures?
First I’ve been doing it for so long, almost 30 years of photographing the people that are close to me. So I got used to it, and it’s part of my life and the way I just operate and live my life. I think it’s a lot of intuition and just letting things happen, because many of the images started with me wanting to photograph something else. In the image, ‘Bath’ I wanted to photograph myself with my son because the evening before he was relaxing in my arms and so I prepared the camera because I wanted to photograph this quiet, serene moment. He was crying and screaming and pushing against me, he wanted to get out of the bathroom. So that’s what I photographed and it came out special in its own way. It’s a combination of knowing when to control and when to construct and to direct and when to let go and just let things happen and take pictures.