Elinor Carucci

born in 1971 in Jerusalem, Israel

Crisis (2002-2003)

This body of work was taken during a very difficult time in my relationship with my husband, Eran.

It was photography that allowed me to be able to step away, to see what was going on. The fact that Eran let me take those photos in the middle of these difficult situations reconnected me to him, in a way.

I was surprised by the very fact that I was taking pictures and that I needed to do it so much that I was pushing my own limits. I wanted to look at us. I wanted to be able to see the beauty in those painful moments, to create, to feel myself and who I am because everything else felt like total chaos and out of control.

I felt the need to title those images in a more specific way than I did with my previous works. Some situations became charged just by a little piece of information. Otherwise, they might have seemed mundane. A few words were enough to charge a documented moment, making it possible to see more of what lies in it, just by pointing out ‘this is what it is about’.

It is my warning sign now. I know what to look for, what to be careful about; I have those photographs to remind me.

My mother was the first person I have ever photographed and I still take pictures of her obsessively. Quite literally, in more than one way, she was, and still is, my natural point of origin, my connection to the world. I used to think that the tensions between us, as well as the sense of closeness, security and warmth, the whole way I related to her during childhood, would somehow naturally end with the end of childhood. Perhaps they were transformed, elevated to some other level, but in many ways, they have never lost their power over me.

I started taking pictures of her when I was fifteen. I used my father’s old Canon camera. Gradually, in concentric circles, the subjects of my work expanded. From my mother, to my father and brother, to the extended family, until, in recent years, the center shifted, at least partially, to my husband, Eran. I no longer see my mother only as a strong person. She is no longer my only source of security, power, and beauty, but I do measure my own femininity, my own self, at a distance from her. When she prepared me for the world, she showed me the world through her eyes. It was, or is, a long process. When I was twenty-two, she put lipstick on my lips, her lipstick. This was one of many things that were both, somehow, continuation and separation. It was my own femininity, yet always drawing on hers. Oddly, I still felt her lipstick would somehow protect me. But this closeness, in a way, also enabled me to move away, to enlarge the circles of both life and work, and finally to shift much of the focus to Eran, even to myself. The camera was, in this sense, both a way to get close, and to break free. It was a testimony to independence as well as a new way to relate. A boundary, a distance, as well as the documentation of closeness. I could see my mother, my husband, my father, at once in a detached and a related way.

In the first few years, I was mostly intuitive, even impulsive, in the way I shot. After a while, however, I tried to turn to what I thought of then as more professional photography. I began shooting series of black and white pictures, with my mother and myself as their subject. They were structured, posed: my mother looked too ready to be in a photograph, well prepared, presenting herself to me. It’s not that we weren’t candid or open. We were, and we did try to recreate real scenes, actual situations. Yet, something was missing. I didn’t like what came out. I stopped and took a break for a few months.

When I returned to photography – I was about twenty-one years old then – I took one step back. I stopped trying to recreate and stage things that happened in a controlled way. Instead, I tried to do what I did when I first started: shoot things as they were happening. I began to work in colour too, which is, for me, warmer, more vivid. I gave no advance warning, required no cooperation, shot in quantity. Snapped, developed, looked at the results, and over again. For the most part, it was still my mother and myself, but as I was working intensively, and instinctively, everyone who was intertwined in our lives, my father, my brother Pinni, Eran, my grandparents, my cousins, was drawn in. The frame became flexible and hospitable. Things I had previously considered marginal drifted to the center and often became themes in their own right. Ironically, the closer I got to the details, and the more I zoomed in, the more universal the themes turned out to be. Moving in turned out to be moving out. Work on minute details, like a mark on the skin, a stitch, a hair, an eye, a kiss, carried the work beyond the boundaries of my family.

The presence of the camera also became more familiar, easier to get used to. Still, it generated, not just documented, situations. Not because it had a personality, but because it aroused an attitude. By the very fact of documenting, the image competed with its object, showed it in a different, yet not at all false, light. It’s like facing a mirror: when you look into it, you tighten your face muscles slightly, change your expression. I found myself and my family discovering more about ourselves, or at least, discovering nuances we couldn’t otherwise see. Sometimes, the photographs came before I could articulate what it was that triggered them, giving form to some unformed feeling. More than that, the camera sometimes dares say what I don’t dare think. These lines, between what I thought I saw in life, what I saw in the photographs, and what I thought I saw in the photographs, became confusing in many ways. Like a permanent double take, I was not always sure if something – a mood, a sigh, a frown – captured the character of the actual event, or if I was imposing on my memory a fraction the camera had caught. It often feels like I have two parallel sets of memory. And yet, as complicated as the relations between representation and life may be, I do trust the camera, and what it captured, is in many ways real. The camera is, in fact, often less biased than my eyes. And since it preserves something from life – which would not otherwise be valuable for me – it is also a document. When I have something in a photograph, I feel like it is safe from time, I also feel like I can part with it. It gives me the illusion of having the actual past for safekeeping.

The work has never been a burden for my family. As revealing as it might be, I have never subscribed to the idea of art over life. Certainly not in my relationship with them. That is not to say there are never any temptations. I caught myself once running for the camera when my father was ill, lying in bed with high temperature. I stopped. These would be too alienated. Too alienating. Both in terms of human relations, and in terms of art. It is the temptation of the provocative and the vulgar, and I try to resist it. Then, there is also the relationship between art and life that can’t be preserved, as I see it, if my photographs become too intruding. They thrive on intimacy and can’t afford to undermine it. I can’t show intimacy in any general way, if there is such a thing as general intimacy at all. I can only say something universal about intimacy through actual intimacy. My own. The actual relationships I have with specific people. With these people that I love. The deepest I can reach is within what is most familiar and close. And so I set the limits. I don’t pounce on my mother when she’s waking up. I don’t get the camera when I have a fight with Eran. I don’t stand aside to document when someone is crying.

In many ways, they not only helped me – they became part of the work to such an extent that I can’t consider it only as my own. It is, truly, also theirs.

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