Since photography became accessible to the mainstream there’s been no shortage of baby photos. And now more than ever you probably cruise by a friend’s stumbling, growing child on your social media feeds, getting these seemingly intimate glimpses of both parents and people forming. Yet it’s rarely revealing about what it really means to be a parent — the tantrums, the moments of peace, and the daily dramas both good and bad.
In photographer Elinor Carucci‘s new monograph Mother, published in October by Prestel, she chronicles nine years of motherhood, from the tentative expectancy of pregnancy to the whir of raising children in the bustle of New York City. An exhibition of these photographs is also opening at Edwynn Houk Gallery in Manhattan on March 27. As with her previous series, including Closer and Crisis on the slow creation and decay of relationships, and Diary of a Dancer on the Israeli American’s work as a Middle Eastern dancer in New York City, there is an incredible amount of intimacy with her life in these photographs, the depth of which is rarely so candid.
“Motherhood revealed the best and the worst in me,” Carucci writes in the book’s introduction. “I was filled with so many emotions. Joy and wonder, love and happiness coexisted with sadness, anger, exhaustion, and anxiety, as well as a sense of mourning for the body I would never have again, the woman I would never be again.”
Her twins — a boy and a girl — were born in 2004, and while there are the beatific portraits that show their limbs entwined in perfect lighting, there are also the grotesque dripping noses and faces warped in tears.
“It was too intense, too rich, to express only through ‘Madonna and child’ images,” she writes. “It’s not that I didn’t have those magical, peaceful moments with my babies, and I did take that kind of photo, but there was so much more to tell and show.”
The 125 images in the book chronicle a lot, but rare are other figures besides her and her two children. Even when other relations and people creep into the frame, they are not the central subjects. She notes that there was sometimes stress in choosing “between photographing and mothering” — deciding whether to soothe a drama or capture it.
But it’s her choosing to take those photographs of all the moments, devastating and delightful, beautiful and hideous, that makes Mother more interesting than just a family album. Although spending time with the photographs you are sometimes left wondering, who took these? Obviously those of Carucci speeding down the streets and through the subways of New York City with children in tow are from a spectator, but she doesn’t note who in her introduction. Yet there’s something in that which reminds you of all these times, especially in New York City, of viewing the deep personal interactions of strangers, and knowing that there’s this whole story of love and struggle coiled behind the moment.