deeply intimate portraits serve as diaries of her life. Spanning from the painful Crisis series to new work focusing on her capricious children, Carucci has a delicate knack for capturing the emotive minutiae representing life-- imprints of sleeping on sheets, a sadness between lovers, primped lips. Her commercial work has extended into this territory as well, translating the sentimental nature of her images into a variety of photographic fields.
I have included an extended interview with Elinor. It was a pleasure talking to a woman who sees photographing as essential and has seamlessly fused work with her personal life.
Elinor first presented her "Closer-Pain-Crisis-Touch" at SLPS IX in New York. Because of it's popularity, it was presented in shows all over the world. Her recent body of work "My Children" debuted at SLPS Portland III, during Photo Lucida, and most recently at SLPS San Francisco II.
You often mention that photography has served as a catharsis in the most trying moments, specifically within your series "Crisis". Does photography allow you to disassociate and become voyeuristic to a situation that, if embroiled, would be painful to deal with? Are there things revealed in front of the camera not in every day life?
In Crisis there is this image called Love in Spite
where I felt I showed much more sympathy and compassion than I actually felt that day, week, or month. I look at it and think why do I look soft to my husband! We were not talking that day and he was not touching me... so you can look at this and say "that whole situation, that is not true because we were not talking to each other that day." Or you could say that the camera is giving us legitimacy to do something that we were afraid to do-- to be softer, not so defensive. We had this moment, it was photographed, and we both looked at it and it was nice to discover that a softer moment might have existed. I think about the images with my kids. Some of them, I thought "my god I look so angry!" and I WAS angry, I was really angry, and it was good to know that was expressed accurately.
You mentioned in an article in the Guardian that your work, contrary to your husband's, is "about connecting" Yet so many of your images are fragmented body parts, portraits denying the camera's gaze, the moment right before touch. In what ways do you see your images as representations of connection?
Not all of my images are about people connecting. My images come from my life-- my husband needs to feel like a stranger in order to take pictures, while I need to feel familiar, connected and loving in order to take pictures. The pictures are not necessarily always about loving and connecting, even though that is the environment I try to create in my life. I see this with a lot of my students, many women photograph in environments that they know and love, while men sometimes feel a need to go where they have never been, document cultures they are unfamiliar with. The images are sometimes about warmth and connection, and sometimes they might just show a hand touching someones face and its simply about that moment.
The women you portray are not feeble, but are often pictured in submissive postures in intimate places-- how do you reconcile this dichotomy?
I'm not necessarily trying to portray women as either strong or weak, I'm trying to describe parts of their lives. I don't have an agenda concerning "women are strong, and this is what I want to portray in my work" I'm photographing the people I know and am close to, and find both strengths and weaknesses within them. I don't think if I show a woman in bed, it means that shes not strong. Definitely if I'm looking at my family, women in my family are incredibly strong but they are emotional and cry much more than the men; they break down every other day about something... but it doesn't make them not as strong, they are simply emotional women.
With my new body of work, becoming a mother was something that made me way weaker and way stronger at the same time. I'm not trying to portray an unrealistic or false image of a strong woman because having children really made me vulnerable mentally and physically, yet much stronger as well. I sometimes don't even recognize myself as a mother of these two children. It's all part of being a woman.
As a female photographer, shooting ones children often receives a sexist response. Have you felt a sexist reaction to your work based on the fact that your subject matter is often your family?
I know that many times, and this is not true to only women, artists in order to be taken seriously must deal with 'serious' issues-- political work or work with a social consciousness. If the work is coming from a true place than it's great, if it's not, it will always seem false. But the same goes for people who photograph their personal lives. If they are not really passionate about their lives, than usually the viewers can recognize that. If I dealt with the political situation in Israel right now, would I be taken more seriously? Maybe, but I never thought about it documenting it. In my work there are serious universal concepts that exist in the core of our personal lives, although the images aren't necessarily obvious.
Do you feel like your self portrayal has changed? From Crisis till now?
I think I portray myself only in connection to my children now... which is a little weird, but its not a conscious decision. I am so connected to them, if I'm not with them I cant wait to be with them. That's how I see myself currently, and it shows in the work. My relationship to my body has changed-- it looks different, it feels different. I feel that things change and I just follow them with my photography, but its not like I make conscious decision about visually perusing these changes. I don't know what the work will look like after the kids turn five and when they start going to public school next year. I don't know how anything will change the work. And that's the magic, but sometimes the frustration.
Are there any moments that you feel self conscious about shooting yourself?
No, because I know the edit stage will come, and I edit A LOT of images out. Mostly because they are not good enough, but some because of personal reasons. I just try to shoot freely and keep my intentions separate from the market, the people, the viewers. I like to edit, edit again, show the work to my husband, a few close friends, mom, dad, kids, put it in a drawer and pull it out again... and then after all of this work, put it out to the world. This is why just now I am showing work that I started in 2003. It takes me time.
You noted that "We make unconscious decisions on how we want to be photographed" yet we are also
"more responsible for what we are doing and feeling because the camera is there" What type of a consciousness do you try to evoke within yourself and the subjects you're shooting. We are unconscious, yet responsible-- how do those two things intersect?
When I started taking pictures, I was worried about staged work. I was trying to make everything like a snapshot, very spontaneous, because I wanted it to be true, to be honest. I then realized I'm never spontaneous because I'm photographing myself, so I'm always posing, always aware, always staged. The children are realizing this now and it has occurred with my mom and my husband, since they were also staged and became aware of the process.
I discovered to my surprise that staged images are more revealing. People decide how they want to be photographed. They are portraying things that are meaningful and honest. As I photographed the people around me, I saw how much comes through that is not coming through in the subtleties of real life. People do things for the camera that knock me out, these strong, intense, revelatory things.... Its like a little stage offered to you. My children are beginning to understand the stage, and are beginning to do things for the camera for the sake of being photographed. But it doesn't make it fake, its just a different process.
It has been said many times that your commercial, editorial and personal work are analogous-- how do you maintain such an aesthetic while working with art directors, photo editors, and ad agencies?
I do take pride in the fact that I have a certain style. But sometimes I envy photographers who can shoot different styles and create on demand. I guess it just comes down to how I know to take pictures. In editorial shoots, I want the moment of connection, so I approach these images differently than my family because these are people I met only an hour ago. I approach photography with a lot of humanity and openness; usually people hire me for that, and I'm therefore matched with the right stories.
I was shooting a campaign for Vaseline in Alaska this last summer and I was a little nervous because I was there for three weeks with an art director, Andy Grant from BBH. But he was amazing, so respectful, and we ended up working as a great team. If he had ideas, thoughts or directions, he offered them, and they were inspiring. I am trying to learn from people, not resisting concepts. Working with talent like Kathy Ryan or Elizabeth Biondi, Im like, YES! TELL ME WHAT TO DO! Push me in other directions, its my chance! Because when I'm working alone, I don't have that.
Lips and body parts are a common theme in your images. Why this segmentation of the body?
I have a fascination with faces. Even when I was shooting commercially, my rep and some of the photo editors who I worked with, used to say, Elinor, not only the face! I love peoples faces and when I talk to someone I can go home and not remember what they wore, but perfectly remember the face-- both for commercial shoots or my childrens' faces. This is something I'm actually trying to fight. I cant keep shooting peoples eyes and mouths, even though that is my tendency. My husband says, "you have to stop shooting the mouth, it's repetitive!" So I'm working on it! I relate to people quickly, and I find that it's usually the face that shows you who a person is.
In the last year I have had two amazing shoots. I did a shoot for Esquire about Erik Ramsey who has locked in syndrome. This was something that I was afraid to take, it was not an easy story, but it was beautiful to see how he takes care of his son. It was heartbreaking.
Also, the campaign for Vaseline in Alaska was really unusual. I don't do a lot of advertising work and campaigns because usually the art buyers love and are touched by my book and my work, but then the clients get closer and they are more skeptical. Fortunately, this was more of a documentary campaign, a kind of experiment. Vaseline gave the product to one person, and the product went from one to another through recommendation. We ended up photographing 230 people in Alaska who ended up getting the product. This was my dream campaign because they wanted closeups of skin. Only closeups of peoples faces and bodies, I was in heaven! We asked each person to tell us the part of their body or face that represents them. People showed us scars and tattoos, some of the craziest stories I have ever heard. I couldn't believe it was a commercial campaign because it was like doing a documentary job for me. I photographed as many eyes and lips as I wanted and I didn't get in trouble for it!
And the Emily Gould shoot for The New York Times Magazine?
I got some directions from the magazine, but I knew that I wanted to get a sense of her life, which is hard because I cant realistically move in with her for two weeks. You have to have a person walk you through their day during some editorial shoots. It feels funny in the beginning, but then you really get into the situation and when she says, "I go sit on the computer with my pajamas"... I spend two days with her sitting on the computer in her pajamas. You get to know the person-- how they move, how they smile. The magazine wanted to know where she writes, they wanted pictures of her with her laptop... what she does, her apartment, her life. I knew I couldn't make photographs of only eyes and lips!
And some of the hardest editorial shoots?
Its hard when you don't have the person opening up to you, when someone is like, just take my picture and leave. Its hard not to take it personally, find it boring, stressful. It happens every once in a while, and the magazine usually understands. Sometimes the situation does break and the subject starts off very cold to you. I'm very respectful of people, I do not try to force my work on anyone. I let them know, whatever you feel comfortable with just give me five minutes and I will shoot a few photos... Sometimes people change their minds if they are cold, and sometimes they don't. When they don't, I make a boring picture and give it to the magazine.
Would you ever consider going back to Belly Dancing? And what do you enjoy about the artform so much?
I performed till a year ago. At the end of the days with photography and teaching and shooting commercially and the kids, it's a lot. Later, if people will hire me when I'm forty-something then YES!
I enjoy belly-dancing due to the connection to the people. Usually, belly-dancing isnt performed on stages, it's performed during weddings, or parties or barmitzvahs, and youre surrounded by people, dancing with the people, pulling them to dance with you, holding their hands. Its addictive. I love the music and the dance, but the combination of bringing something that I love to many people made me so full of joy. It was wonderful, and I do miss it. At the end of the year at SVA I gave my students a three hour belly dancing workshop. It was so much fun, so I started thinking about restaurants, and maybe calling to book... and then I was like... ohhhh no, its ten o clock and I just cant do it.
And the kids? Are they you're next big project?
I think so, I hope they agree! I'm fascinated by them, I just want to photograph them all of the time. They change so much, so quickly. They might not want to be photographed in the future, I just don't know. This is what I'm doing for now, but you never know. We are not painters sitting in our studios painting whatever we want. Everything I do I have to do it with other people. You need the outside world. We shall see what comes next.