Masks, from Carucci's series Closer
I haven’t encountered a photographer that has provided a more complete, deeply loving and jarringly honest portrait of a family than Elinor Carucci. Immersing myself in her work, I was shocked at the depth of understanding she allows her audience to comprehend. She photographs her own relationships and the details of her life to create a thorough study of all that is normal to her. By including portraits not only of herself but of her family and her home, she invites us to understand the variety of roles she plays in her life: daughter, wife, mother, dancer, artist, immigrant. While she has many other markers by which to define her life (such as being a dancer), Carucci chooses to show us her identity as defined by the tightly woven net that is her family.
My mother and I in a hotel room, 1998, from Carucci's series Closer
As I spent time with her photographs, I noticed I was getting attached to the people in the photos. She reveals the complexity of each relationship and each person that by the end I feel almost as if I know them better than I know my own friends. Photographs of her mother document quirks of their individual interaction but still speak about universal similarities in mother-daughter relationships. Some of my favorite photographs of the series show her mother teaching and Carucci imitating and laughing. As a whole, they show Carucci’s admiration and her fear of not measuring up, among other themes. Photographs of her father often have a striking similarity to those of her husband: Carucci frequently shows both men as loving the women in their life but sometimes uncertain as to the best way to demonstrate it. Photographs of her children reveal Carucci’s curiosity and delight in their interaction with the world around them. Their passionate outbursts have an intensity rarely matched in adulthood. Carucci includes detail shots, such as the imprint of a zipper on skin, that act as a metaphor for the larger themes. They serve as a complement to the more explicit shots, creating a body of work that is nearly as complex as the subject matter itself. In all the photographs, it is as much a reflection of Carucci herself as it is of her family.
Kiss, 1998, from Carucci's series Closer
Frequently, artists choose a subject matter that isn’t so far from their own experience that they can’t understand it but isn’t so close that they are blinded by their own nearness. What makes Carucci stand out is that she had the maturity and confidence at age 21 to photograph what was immediately within her grasp. It takes a lot of young artists a while to completely embrace themselves and, sometimes even more challenging, their origins, but Carucci was comfortable allowing others to see her in her skin and with her family.
Eran and I, 1998, from Closer
Carucci represents her life as it is, not how she wants it to be. She allows the world to see her messy kitchen, her face without any makeup, her husband’s expression after a fight, the plucking of a hair on her nipple. She photographs her family in the nude to show the beauty in normal bodies. Sensuality and flaws exist side by side with no conflict. I find that her choice to document a complete and unfiltered range of emotions allows me to see that her normal is similar to my normal.
Ultimately, Carucci’s work is a celebration of dependence. In a culture that values independence above all else, Carucci’s photographs open a window to another world-view that values love in the form of unembellished mutual dependence. Her work is foreign to us not because she speaks another language at home but because it’s different from the type of family relationships that American culture glorifies.
Bath 2006, from Carucci's recent work
Read more about Carucci:
The first thing I ever read about Carucci
Article in the Guardian