In Conversation with Elinor Carucci | September 2019
Our next Fable & Folk interview is with photographer Elinor Carucci. Elinor has done both editorial and advertising work but is best known for her personall work - particularly her series “Mother”. “Mother” documents nearly a decade of her own journey through motherhood. Elinor has done multiple solo and group exhibitions worldwide with her work being exhibited in galleries such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Photographers’ Gallery, London. She has also produced three books - “Closer” (2002), “Diary of a Dancer” (2005) and “Mother” (2014).
We wanted to interview Elinor because her series “Mother” was one of the first examples of self portrait within a series I had seen when I started photography. The series is intimate, beautifully shot and a perfect example of how to document something that’s close and personal to you.
Fable & Folk: Firstly, thank you Elinor for letting us interview you, we really love your work! I’d like to begin by asking if you could possibly give us a little background about yourself & how you first got into photography?
Elinor Carucci: I was born in Jerusalem, Israel and was interested in the arts from a really young age - I used to play piano and studied theatre. Around the age of 15, I discovered photography, I took my Father’s camera and didn’t know what to do. I walked into my Mother’s room and started taking pictures of her and I realised there was so much more I could see, feel and understand from the process of taking pictures. This is when I decided this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a photographer because it was a different version of me, it made me more than who I am. The minute I photograph something, there is a depth and substantial and deeper level of connection and understanding.
F&F: Many of the people who follow Fable & Folk are aspiring to turn their photographic practice into their career. Did you encounter any challenges whilst doing this yourself and do you have any advice based on these experiences?
EC: It’s very very challenging to make photography your profession - it’s such a saturated, competitive field. It depends on who you are, what you want to do, where you live, it’s different for everybody. In order to make photography your career, you really have to a) make sure it’s really something you want to do and b) stick with it, you have to give it your all. Try and make sure you’re bringing your photography to the highest level you can, creating work that is original and says something. You have to find a way to make a living and be creative, whether you teach or do commissioned editorial work on the side.
F&F: My first introduction to your work was discovering your series “Mother”, could you tell us a little about that for our audience who might not have heard of the project?
EC: “Mother” started when I was pregnant with twins in 2003 and ended up being a ten year long project. Especially after I gave birth and started to experience motherhood, I really wanted to show the depth, layers and complexity of being a parent. I hated all the beautifying and romanticising of motherhood through photography and art. I had a real passion to show what I felt about motherhood and how much more complex it is than a beautiful, peaceful moment of mother and child. I’m trying to go deeper to a personal place to create something universal, that talks to us all. I want to create bodies of work that talk about the human experience and in this case it was about parenthood. I wanted to show the joys, the beauty and the pain - all of it.
F&F: What inspired you to start the project?
EC: I guess the intensity of the emotions of what I felt and went through are what inspired this project. I think motherhood shows you the best of you and the worst of you - it’s the deepest, strongest love to exist but there are also really hard times too.
F&F: Did you have an idea of how the project would look before shooting or was that something that developed as the project progressed?
EC: No I didn’t have any idea because I was never a mother. Even if I was, every child is a different experience and journey. I wanted it to go deeper into this journey and follow what happens in life, it’s not predictable.
F&F: This particular body of work is very intimate and that’s what makes it, in my opinion, so beautiful. However, did you receive any criticism over this project and if so, how did you deal with that?
EC: I did receive criticism especially since America can be a bit of a puritent culture about the images. I wanted to as a part of this work talk also about the physical, intimate connection to your children and there was definitely criticism with that - that the images are ‘too much’ and ‘inappropriate’. I accept these criticisms. The image of ‘Adam peeking’ was the most controversial image. It is a beautiful moment of child curiosity and how as a mother, you can contain that curiosity and I can be my child’s safe environment. The way I raise my kids, there is a lot of openness regarding nudity and raising questions but I can understand why people have criticisms. Every parent and family is different.
F&F: “Mother” was published as a book in 2013/2014 and you have two other published books too. Would you recommend turning projects into photobooks for other photographers?
EC: Yes, phonebooks are the most important thing to me as a photographer! They are the product of your projects that never goes away - exhibitions come and go. They are the ultimate, complete platform to display my full collections of work. I take a lot of time in creating the book, the sequence, the edit, the essay, then it is the complete body of work from A - Z. As opposed to print sales, many people find it too expensive but there’s something about a book. Mother is sold on Amazon and you get a deep look into a project I devoted a decade to. You can send this to people to get a real deep peek into a project.
F&F: Something that I think isn’t talked about enough between photographers is cost. Lots of people work from commissioned jobs that fund their personal work, others take up part time jobs to pay the bills. What path did you take and do you have any words of advice for young photographers looking to fund their work?
EC: The financial thing is difficult and challenging. I’m 48 and some of my friends today who are still artists, come from money or marry into money. I definitely don’t come from money and had to figure that out. It’s challenging but people find ways of getting people to sponsor projects, some apply to grants, teach, commissions. You have to find the balance between something to pay the bills but the time to do what you love.
F&F: To build on that, have you applied for grants or any funding in the past? If so, how do you come across these and what was the application process like?
EC: There were a lot of grants when I first started my career. My next body of work is called ‘Mid-life’ and it will talk about being middle aged and the challenges of this age and I do feel like there are lots of opportunities when you’re younger. I applied for more when I was younger and now there are much less of them. Part of what I’m going to talk about in my next book ‘Mid-life’ (it will be published this fall and was edited by Alan Rapp, editor of my photobook ‘Closer’) is that especially for woman, being middle aged is really challenging professionally, we need more opportunities, more grants for those women in the middle of their careers.
F&F: Thank you so much for speaking to us Elinor! I’d like to end by asking what was the last photobook you bought?
EC: It was “Boxing” by Larry Fink. Teaching is important to me and very inspiring. I give everything to my students - helping them to grow and develop and have this journey together. It’s so important to surround yourself with other people’s work. I buy photobooks because I love them but also conversations with my students remind me of work for example one of my students is photographing boxers and that’s what inspired me to buy this book.
Many thanks to Elinor again for speaking to use. To see more of Elinor’s work, visit http://www.elinorcarucci.com/
All images and text © Elinor Carucci