Born 1971 in Jerusalem, Israel, Elinor Carucci graduated in 1995 from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design with a degree in photography, and moved to New York that same year. In a relatively short amount of time, her work has been included in an impressive amount of solo and group exhibitions worldwide, solo shows include Edwynn Houk gallery, Fifty One Fine Art Gallery, James Hyman and Gagosian Gallery, London among others and group show include The Museum of Modern Art New York and The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
Her photographs are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art New York, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Houston Museum of Fine Art, among others and her work appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Details, New York Magazine, W, Aperture, ARTnews and many more publications.
She was awarded the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Young Photographer in 2001, The Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002 and NYFA in 2010. Carucci has published two monographs to date, Closer, Chronicle Books 2002 and Diary of a dancer, SteidlMack 2005. Carucci currently teaches at the graduate program of photography at School of Visual Arts and represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery.
In winter of 2013/2014 Prestel publishing published her third monograph, MOTHER, portraying nearly a decade of her motherhood project. A solo show of this work was exhibited at Edwynn Houk Gallery in NYC in March 2014 and is currently up at MoCP Chicago.
What was the hardest part about leaving Israel? Why did you decide to go to America and New York City specifically?
The hardest part about leaving Israel, and there were many difficult things, but I think it was mainly leaving my family and knowing that I won’t be able to be close to them and see them a lot, but also leaving the country, the culture, the language. Also, when I left, I was not sure that I would be actually living my life here [in New York] so its actually getting somehow easier over the years but on the other hand harder because I know that it’s final now.
I decided to go to New York for my photography. I was also here before, my Aunt lives here, so I spent some of my teen years visiting her in Queens. I saw that this was the center of photography. I remember being 17 and going to ICP and I realized so many things happened here in America, especially in New York, there are so many galleries and magazines and I wanted to be in a place where I can have more opportunities for my photography.
As an Israeli myself, I often find in your images a sense of the Israeli culture , it might be subtle sometimes, but I do feel it in many of the images. Do you think the Israeli culture is in some way a part of your work? Or is it just a by-product of you and your family being Israeli?
The Israeli culture is a big part of my work, it’s not typical Israeli work that deals with the Palestinians or the Israeli conflict or with the political situation, but it very much talks about the family and the warmth and sexuality of Israel. A lot of my early work has the Israeli light in it so I feel the strong connection to the family is everything in Israel, and the dramatic element of everybody within the family. The family is really an Israeli microcosmic mirror for everything else.
In your body of work and book ‘Diary of a dancer’ there is a tension between cultures. Maybe it is because it was the earliest and the closest time after you moved over, but the contrast between American and Middle Eastern culture, like the belly dancer in the Subway car, formed a very lonely yet powerful series of images. How was the process of creating this body of work? Did it help you in some way feel more at home in New York?
It did help me feel more at home in New York, and sometimes I feel like without making ‘Diary of a Dancer’ I wouldn’t be able to shoot ‘Mother’. It was my first time going outside taking pictures in the streets of New York, and the night clubs I danced in. I created some kind of a personal bubble in order to keep photographing here but it was a new chapter of my life as a belly dancer here in New York city and around New York area.
I did feel lonely, but dancing for immigrant communities made me understand that many people here have created their own bubbles and it was very comforting, but also something that made me think about what it means to be an immigrant and an artist.
Me and Yoav Friedlander have created a new class for the School of Visual Arts called ‘The Photographer Immigrant’ –a class both for students who create work outside their own country, or create work after living abroad, and for any student who is interested in the topic of the class, who consider and respond to the world around them with a camera and image making with the awareness of immigration and culture, differences and barriers and global aspects of our world today.
I think this started from ‘Diary of a Dancer’.
How do you think photographing your children from the moment they were born have changed or shaped them in to the people they are now?
I will probably not know until they are older, but I think and hope that it had a positive impact on them mainly because of conversations we had about how I photograph not only the pretty and happy moments but also the painful moments.
I think being photographed that way, and just living our lives this way, made my kids more comfortable in their own skin, and maybe they have more compassion for other people’s pain. I always told them that I am photographing it all, we don’t need to hold a façade or a mask. Photography is about who we are. Everything is beautiful to me, or at least inspirational, so I think they learned to accept their flaws and other people’s flaws more easily.
Is there anything you would never photograph? What stays private and away from the camera?
There is nothing I would never photograph from my own life, and from Poor Eran’s life [her husband] but when it comes to other people who are not me, Yes, I do have limits, and it also depends on how they feel, but nothing is too private for the camera when it comes to my own life or my own body. Something is too private if it is too private for another person, for my mom or for my children, but eventually the respect and the love for them will come before photography.
What is your biggest achievement as an educator? How do you feel about having this role of guidance and inspiration for young artists?
I feel my biggest achievement is helping someone bring out something from within them in to their work. It sounds simple, but it is very elusive and challenging, for myself, for my colleagues, my artist friends and my students. How do you translate what you feel? How you see things? Your opinion into a piece of art; how to keep it honest, real and interesting. This is really the journey I have with students. When it’s successful it is very rewarding, and I feel that I learn a lot in the process as well. But it is really about who they are, acknowledging it and bring who they are into the work.
What was the harshest criticism you ever heard about your work?
The harshest criticism definitely came from Israel, and the list is long, but in my thesis exhibition someone wrote in the local Jerusalem paper how narcissistic and boring the work was, and also I know from some Israeli’s that went to school with me that some of them were surprised to learn about my success, so maybe there is a reason why I am not there anymore. But the hardest criticism came from Israel back in those days in the 90’s.
What was the best advice you ever received regarding your work and photography?
I think to be persistent. Simcha Shirman, one of my professors in Bezalel, told me that being an artist was like being a long distance runner, you have to keep running, and this was the best advice I got from him.
Can you point out one of your favorite photos you ever took? What is the story behind it?
It’s a photo I took of my mom and me, It’s called ‘Mother and I, 2001′ and it is a photo of my mom telling me what men want, while making a funny gesture. I just love this photograph, I think for different reasons. First, it’s hard for me to capture moments that are humorous, and this is a funny picture, and it’s just a side of my mom that I love – when she is provocative, and funny, and makes me laugh. Being able to capture this moment, I was grateful that I had the camera on a tripod and that I managed to get this moment, it was really a split of a second, funny and loving. I love that she is my mom, but she is also talking about sex and men and I love that she is making me laugh.
Can you tell us about the process of making a book? Each one of your monographs is very different one from the other. What makes a good book sequence? What was the workflow?
It’s a very long process, ‘Closer’  took 10 years and ‘Mother’  almost 10 years as well, Diary of a dancer is a little shorter. I think the process starts long before I even have a book deal – taking the pictures and editing them along the way. For me it is about telling a story, it is about getting the viewer on a journey with me. For example, with ‘Mother’ I wanted to keep it in chronological order but not with ‘Closer’ as the chronological order was not as important, but I felt I could engage the viewer with my story. I think I really want to tell my story but also keep it universal, I want to choose images and sequence them in a way that people could relate to them.
The other elements like the colors and the design is definitely a team work with the book editor and the designer.
With all the books we narrowed down the images, printed them small and laid them out on the floor of my apartment, sometimes I would live with them for a few days, and the book editor would come back again and we would move the prints and sequence them again and again. Sometimes it would start in the living room continue to the hall and to the kitchen because it was so long. When we finish we leave and come back to look at it again and edit and edit and edit. It’s a lot of work.
Finally – Who was your biggest inspiration as a photographer?
The biggest inspiration as a photographer is the love of my family to me and my love to them. I think the biggest inspiration in short is – love
Visit Elinor’s website to see more of her work.