My first photos were the last taken by my father’s old camera. At first I photographed my mother, then my father and my brother, and then later the extended family.
I started shooting in color. And rather than pursuing what had been, I tired to seize what was happening as it unfolded – no advance warning, no cooperation, in quantity – to snap, to develop, to check, and over again. It was still my mother and myself – while working intensively and instinctively everyone who was intertwined in our lives – my father, my brother, my boyfriend, grandparents, cousins – were drawn inward. The frame became flexible and hospitable. What I had previously considered improvisation and marginal came close to the center and became the theme itself.
As a permanent presence, which one got used to, the camera generated situations. Not because it had a personality, but because it aroused an attitude, by documenting a situation and in that way competed with the image of the photographed object in relationship to itself. It was like facing a mirror: when you look into it, you tighten your face muscles slightly, change your expression – and that’s what happens in front of a camera. I found myself and my family discovering ourselves, a discovery of nuances, but nevertheless, a discovery. There was a desire to create photogenic situations, as opposed to the wish to capture those that were not. The process of selecting and sorting was similarly problematic: to choose the “pretty” or the “right” photo, the “aesthetic” or “authentic” one, how to distinguish between them, and how to integrate them.
Another challenge was how much to interfere with a pictured situation? Does altering the light create a different situation? Does it keep me faithful to the reality of what I’m trying to document? Within these narrow confines I became confused – the preferred situation would be not to think, just to shoot. As a result, the camera sometimes saw what was happening in front of me before I did. Sometimes it confused my world of pictures with the real world. Like someone else standing aside, the photos said: pay attention, there’s something here that you do not grasp by yourself – wake up!
At particular moments I was assailed by feelings of guilt. Dad was ill, high temperature, and I ran to get the camera. His bad moments were great for my work. I decided to set limits: save life, don’t shoot! To pounce on my mother as she was awakening – an existential disaster. On the other hand – they also valued what was important to me. We made a deal: they had the right to tear and throw out certain photos. Through the small details, the photographs began to extend beyond my family frontiers. In the “small” near me I could see the “big”, “far”, and go back to observing my intimate surroundings differently – taking pictures of them through them.
For me the photographs are about love, closeness, warmth, intimacy, growing up, breaking away, independence, femininity, and sexuality – I brim over, from grocery lists to cosmetics and back again. It’s an open book … and yet, emerging from a single centered place. I shoot a lot and from this collection I built one story – hoping that the rest of the stories will flow through it. The desire to help my family spilled over beyond helping and became part of the work itself, which to a certain extent, is not just mine, but also theirs.
Elinor Carucci, born 1971 in Israel, currently lives and works in New York City. She received her BFA from Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. She has had solo exhibitions at the Heifa Museum of Contemporary Art in Israel, the Photographer’s Gallery in London, Ricco/Maresca Gallery in NYC, and the Prague House of Photography; and been in group shows at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum for Israeli Art. Carucci’s images have been published in several books including Sleep (Rizzoli), MaleFemale (Aperture), and Love and Desire (Chronicle). Vogue, Big, New York, Photo District News, Newsweek, and the New York Times Magazine have all featured her images. This spring Elinor was given the prestigious Infinity Award for Young Photographer 2001; she is also a recipient of a Buhl Foundation Grant 2000 and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture Project Grant.