ElinorCarucci

Getting Closer, Becoming Mother: About Intimacy and Family. 1993-2012 Elinor Carucci

In 2004 I became a mother.

My daughter Emmanuelle and my son Eden were born in August of that year. After a blissful pregnancy, my labor had to be induced; I ended up with an emergency cesarean section that left me wounded, weak, and in pain. A few days later I was sent home to my new life as a mother of twins. The days passed, some quickly and others slowly. At the same time that I was getting to know my babies, falling in love with them, I was also getting to know myself better. Motherhood revealed the best and the worst in me. I was filled with so many emotions. Joy and wonder, love and happiness coexisted with sadness, anger, exhaustion, and anxiety, as well as a sense of mourning for the body I would never have again, the woman I would never be again.

I felt and saw so much in those first months – the beauty and ugliness, the tears and laughter, the extremes you come to know when you’re a new parent. I tried somehow to deal with it all through my camera, hoping to portray the complexity of motherhood as honestly as I could. It was too intense, too rich, to express only through ‘Madonna and child’ images. It’s not that I didn’t have those magical, peaceful moments with my babies, and I did take that kind of photo, but there was so much more to tell and to show.

The need to photograph became even stronger when I realized how painfully apparent the passage of time is in the life of a child. The stages they go through simply fly by. Moments that will never come back have passed before my eyes, easily escaping my camera: the last time I breastfed Emmanuelle, Eden trying cherries for the first time, their first fight. I felt compelled to preserve those moments somehow. It is a need every parent shares – whether or not we are professional photographers, we all take pictures of our families. It is as if we’re consoling ourselves, counting our days in this world with our children.

The need to photograph became even stronger when I realized how painfully apparent the passage of time is in the life of a child. The stages they go through simply fly by. Moments that will never come back have passed before my eyes, easily escaping my camera: the last time I breastfed Emmanuelle, Eden trying cherries for the first time, their first fight. I felt compelled to preserve those moments somehow. It is a need every parent shares – whether or not we are professional photographers, we all take pictures of our families. It is as if we’re consoling ourselves, counting our days in this world with our children.

It took a few years for the photographer and the mother in me to learn to coexist. The two did not always agree; the mother in me usually won out. But sometimes, to my surprise, my two identities empowered each other, especially when I acknowledged the positive effect my work had on the children. They took pride in the fact that they were my source of inspiration, that everything about them – the good days and the bad, their flaws and mistakes – was fascinating to me. Through my photographs I embraced all sides of our relationship, making every aspect of our life together, for myself and for them, a legitimate topic to be discussed as well as photographed. As Eden recently told me: “I used to get upset when you photographed me – especially when I was crying – but now I can see what I looked like when I was angry or happy or sad. When you photographed me, that was also time we could spend together.” Emmanuelle shared a similar perspective: “Even though it used to annoy me, when I see the pictures I feel good inside. I sometimes like the images and sometimes not at all.” I’ve explained to the kids why I often take pictures that may seem unlovely, but my daughter persists in preferring the pretty ones.

I have always endeavored to convey a full range of emotion in my work, to take our little stories and turn them into one epic human tale. I am both comforted and relieved to discover how universal my own story is, and I thank the many mothers I have met for their honesty and willingness to share. What they have told me has freed me to portray the complexity of the relationship between mother and child, as so much of what I have experienced has been experienced by other women as well.

Photography has not just been a way to enjoy my children’s love for me and demonstrate my unconditional love for them. It has also helped me recover at times when I feel that I’ve failed them as a mother or sense their resentment of me. Taking just a frame or two has helped me understand what just happened and figure out how to deal with it. There is a certain power in a photograph’s ability to freeze a moment in time. Sometimes an image seemed to compound the past and the future: I could see the kids as they were then, and also how they might be when they are older. Sometimes it was my own guilt that I photographed. Looking at a picture reminds me of what I did wrong, but sometimes it helps me forgive myself. Like most parents, I am constantly surrendering and resisting, failing and succeeding. With my pictures I hope to give my children a caress that will stay with them even when I am not. It’s painful knowing that I will not always be able to protect them. Taking pictures of them is a way to try to deal with that pain. My images are a way both to keep them mine and to keep me theirs, keep me there.

Nothing is as inspiring to me as watching my children grow. The life of a child is so intense that everyday activities – brushing teeth, taking a shower, getting a haircut – become theatrical moments. A simple argument may end with the words “I hate you! I will never be your friend again! Never!”. In my prior work, I’d always had to search for such human drama; now I had only to make sure there was a light up, a camera ready, so I wouldn’t miss it.

In some ways the process felt familiar to me. Parenthood meant putting myself on hold, much as I had done through my photography before I became a mother. For me, photography had always meant to observe someone so completely that I became absorbed by my subject. But there was a limit to the experience: this time-framed version of me would disappear by the end of the shoot. Motherhood infused my entire life with such observation and absorption. After the birth and those first tough weeks, I felt (to my husband’s horror) that I had completely drowned in being a mother to my children. That scared me at times – I was afraid motherhood would take me over, limit me, restrict me. But instead it became a window onto so much of what I feel life is really about. It distilled everything to its essence, allowing me to go as deeply as I possibly could with another person and with myself, enriching me both as an individual and as an artist.

Looking back at images from the last few years, I’ve discovered that I took my photography outside to the streets of New York City, gaining a new sense of belonging to America, the country to which I emigrated in 1995. As if I had given birth to two roots, my kids made me feel more American, and for the first time I embraced New York as home. The school, playgrounds, drugstores, and supermarkets – these are our home at the end of the day. Our neighborhood is my little country. My children’s friends became a part of my work. I had to let my kids lead the way, becoming a member of their family, not just making them mine.

When I started this project, I didn’t know when this chapter in my life would end. I even dreaded its ending, knowing what that would mean. The core of the work was derived from my feeling as one with my children, a bond so strong that sometimes, mainly in the first years, I left my husband, Eran, out of the images. I was surprised by the strong, total, sensual, sometimes erotic physical connection I had with the children. One mother I spoke with told me that we feel so fulfilled by our children, both physically and emotionally, that we don’t need anything else. “But be patient,” she told Eran, smiling. “She will be back.” And she was right. Eran gradually found his way back into the photographs, and into my zone of desire. And then one day, in the spring of 2012, I saw them: the images that told me this stage in my life with my children was coming to a turn.

When I was little, my mother used to read to me from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet”: “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” Now, as a mother myself, I can appreciate how she prepared both of us for that moment. I, too, needed to let my children take their first steps away from me. It was time. Chapter one was approaching its end. I had to acknowledge this, call it a ‘body of work,’ make a book of it.

I am still, and always will be, my children’s mother. I watch them as I mother them, learning so much, see-ing so much. Photographing them forces me to see even more, and the children to show me more. Even when they are not with me, I see more of the world around me. I have never seen as much as I do now, as a mother.

© Elinor Carucci

Title

Getting Closer, Becoming Mother: About Intimacy and Family. 1993-2012 by Elinor Carucci

Number of photo

55 prints

Type

55 framed color prints on cotton paper

Size

See technical rider

Frame size

See technical rider

Set Up

Text material must be printed at the expense of the hosting organization. We provide introduction text, biography and captions both in italian and english. The set-up is divided in three sections: MOTHER, CLOSER, CRISIS & PAIN. An original video produced for the show with an interview to the artist by the curator is also available, and can be included in the exhibition. Duration 30 minutes.

Linear development

50 linear mt lineari minimum (spaces not included). It is possible to create grids, columns and compositions.

Download the datasheet