Expat Israeli artist shoots gritty side of NY motherhood
On show

Expat Israeli artist shoots gritty side of NY motherhood

Currently hung at a Fifth Avenue gallery, Elinor Carucci's images of family and life are at times so stark they shock

Why can't you be nicer to your brother, 2012 (from 'Mother')
Why can't you be nicer to your brother, 2012 (from 'Mother')

NEW YORK — Photographer Elinor Carucci has gotten used to strangers buying photos of her life. The Jerusalem-born Carucci’s subject matter almost always features herself or her family, and now her life can be purchased in a glossy coffee table book called “Mother.”

Carucci moved to New York in 1995 soon after she graduated from Israel’s prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. “Mother,” her latest collection of work, documents ten years of New York City-based child rearing. Selections are also currently on show at the Edwin Houk Gallery in New York until May 3, and in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography from April 18.

Throughout her career, Carucci has taken forms of themed self-portraits, often startling in their stark clarity. They show Carucci; her parents; her husband, Eran Bendheim and their twins Eden and Emanuelle, in sometimes achingly personal situations and various states of undress, pushing viewers into the occasionally uncomfortable realm of voyeurism.

“All of my bodies of work are connected. I usually draw what I photograph from my own life and what I’m going through,” she says. “This is what I’m experiencing and this is how I work.”

Carucci’s first collection, “Closer,” is an overview of her life at the time, with self-portraits as well as images of her parents and of Eran. They eat, they rest, they spend time together at home.

The cover of Elinor Carucci's 'Mother' (courtesy)
The cover of Elinor Carucci’s ‘Mother’ (courtesy)

She followed up with “Diary of a Dancer” in which she detailed her life as a belly dancer, a profession she pursued on a freelance basis to support herself as a photographer. Carucci now teaches at the renown School of Visual Arts in addition to her personal and commercial photography work.

Following “Dancer,” her studies are called “Pain,” “Comfort” and “Crisis,” which depicted other aspects of Carucci’s life with brutal honesty. We see her gritting her teeth through back treatments, in a shaky moment in her relationship with Eran, relaxing with her parents.

And now “Mother” shows Carucci’s children, a boy and a girl, living New York City lives. The artist, who says that she does not see a difference between snapshots and fine art photography, includes images of moments such as bath time struggles, teeth brushing and sibling fights.

On the outset, it is natural to ask, what makes their childhood remarkable enough to warrant photographs to appear in a book and be hung in a gallery?

Emmanuelle having her hair cut, 2007 (from 'Mother')
Emmanuelle having her hair cut, 2007 (from ‘Mother’)

It is not only what Carucci has photographed — how her daughter Emanuelle looks while she is getting a haircut, the expression on her son Eden’s face while crossing the street by himself for the first time — but also the lighting and care with which she has composed her shots of these intimate scenes. We can relate to the images in terms their subjects and admire the artistry of how they were taken.

“The first week” and “My belly after giving birth and c section,” were taken hours apart. To Carucci, “The first week” shows the “traditional Madonna and child that is an aspect that exists in motherhood but it’s not all of motherhood.” To the photographer, it is the other aspects of motherhood that are less frequently depicted.

“I think the side that we see less in motherhood is the complexity: the hard moments, being tired, being frustrated, being in pain after giving birth,” says Carucci.

“My belly” paints this type of realistic picture.

‘The best of me comes out as a mother, and sometimes the worst of me’

“It’s my body when I came back from the hospital. It was hard for me to accept the pain I was in, the scars, the stretch marks, the uneven breasts,” she says.

Carucci’s goal with this project was to show how these facets came together when she became a mother.

“I really tried to stay away from idolizing and romanticizing motherhood,” she says. “I wanted to talk about the complexity of motherhood and how it’s all in there: the beauty, the joy, the pain, the disappointment. The best of me comes out as a mother, and sometimes the worst of me. I wanted to talk about it all, the contrast, the layers, how complex it is.”

Thirty-eight years old, 2009 (from 'Mother')
Thirty-eight years old, 2009 (from ‘Mother’)

Though she has called the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan her home for nearly 20 years, it was the birth of her children that made Carucci feel attached to New York.

“I really feel more at home here than ever. I really feel like I hit roots by giving birth to them. They connected me to this place made it feel finally after so many years like home.”

She credits sending Eden and Emanuelle to public school and becoming part of that community.

While her children speak Hebrew fluently and visit Israel each summer, she has consciously shown them that it is ok for them to be Americans.

“I decided not to try and conflict them about their identity. They were born raised here so of course they’re Americans,” she said.

“We chose to live here because we love this place,” she said

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