CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 7 (PART 1 ) : Researching photographers : Elinor Carucci

CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 7 (PART 1 ) : Researching photographers : Elinor Carucci

2nd November 2019

In June 2019 I started my MA with Falmouth university as part of an accredited education programme.




I’ve seen Elinor Carucci’s work in quite a few books that I have bought, and she also had a piece in the Birth exhibition at TJ Boulting that I went too last week. 

Whilst in London I picked up both Charlotte Jansen’s girl on girl, and Elinor Carucci’s mother – 

As I have come to the realisation more & more throughout the MA that my work has always been about my own journey of motherhood, I was very interested to study the images & accompanying text in Mother to see both what I could learn from them in reference to my own work and thoughts , & also to see how someone else had presented images of their own motherhood journey. I am very much interested to see her new book midlife which comes out any day now as well.

My project was never originally meant to be a photographic study of my own children, our home education journey – yes, but not a photographic study of them per-se. However, there IS now going to be an inner sphere to my work that shows what alternative education is to our family, our own unique story, so I was interested in how this related to Carucci’s work, and to see what I could learn from her project. 

My first observation was an interesting one, and actually nothing related to the photography directly … I realised I really don’t like the titles accompanying the images in this book. I feel the images are so strong that they don’t need those words. During the last module, after being told in Arles that my images looked like children playing and it was hard to see the education in them, I decided that titles was the way forward, as it then pelt out, very simplistically, what the educational value was in each image, and I didn’t need to then have to explain the educational aspects as it was easy to see.

However when it came to showing my first WIP I was advised to remove the titles with the images, as it was thought to be over simplifying, and distracting, something I had no issue with at all, as I didn’t like them either, they were there to serve as a means to an end, I personally didn’t feel like they bought anything to the images, or body of work. Now I have experienced a similar project with similar titles, I agree, they feel far too crude for the depth of the images. I feel very strongly that my images are of families that lead similar lives to our own, and this project is for these families. They will see what I am photographing, and the meaning conveyed in my images, because they see the same things I see, feel the same things I feel, and even without being a home educator you will still know, I would hope. A mother looks through Carucci’s images and she is transported back to that all consuming time of her life when she couldn’t even go to the toilet without being accompanied by someone else, moments of sheer joy, terror and wild abandonment, that moment that we are transported but for a brief time back to our own childhood through our children. Text is not needed to explain these moments, they are ingrained in our very fibre throughout time and history, I don’t believe one has to be a mother to resonate with the emotions in these images, if you have known love in your life, or the frustration that comes with it occasionally,  you will understand these images. For the art world, or the people not involved in alternative education, I believe a brief introduction to the work would suffice. I still plan on using quotes from some of the families along side some of the images as well, as I believe this added an extra depth to the images last module.

Images – (First accessed 2.11.2019)

          The below video was uploaded as part of the Home Truths : Photography, motherhood & Identity group exhibition at the photographers gallery , where Elinor Carucci was exhibited. In it Carucci talks about how photographing her own mother really opened up her own eyes to what she could see through the camera, and changed her art , after that series she felt she could “see more with her camera”

It resonated deeply with me when she talked about how she approaches her images “honestly” and wants her images to talk of “the essence of motherhood” or the “essence of childhood”. That is exactly how I feel about my own imagery. For this project especially, I want the images to talk of the essence of alternative education, the essence of the philosophy of it, and the thoughts and feelings behind what makes that decision one that parents take. I want the images to speak of the essence of the children that are on this path and the fun and joy and freedom that comes along with it. Vimeo. The photographers Gallery . 2013 .

I also found it intriguing when she talks about how she hopes her children draw strength from her images in the future . It is a subject that has been raised to me already, am I thinking about my children when I photograph them? Is it taking their thoughts and feelings into account when I make the decision to photograph them?

After going along to the “we need to talk about birth” artist and curator talk at TJ Boulting the other day, I would say that that view is in itself limiting. We want to think that as mothers we are infallible , perfect creatures who do no wrong, madonna and child-esque. The truth is millions of people are making images of their children, no-one is questioning that, but be a female artist and use children in your art, and suddenly your role as a mother and how good or bad you are at that role is up for debate. Would this even be a question if it was a male artist ?

We can only do what we do, I ask my children regularly whether they are happy to be in my images, it is an open ongoing dialogue that we have , there have been periods in all of their lives where they have chosen not to be photographed , and I have respected that. There have been many more when they have been active participants, collaborators in the images, and I embrace these times.

I love how openly she talks about how her images capture the flaws, the love, the happiness, the arguments, the realities of motherhood, and childhood. That is what is she finds inspiration , all of the beauty and the rawness of it. That is what we need more of when it comes to depictions of motherhood , reality, in all its complexities so we cease , as a society to place unrealistic expectations on mothers.


Interview with Elinor Carucci from The Photographers’ Gallery on Vimeo.

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This blog is written as part of my studies on the Falmouth University photography ma, an accredited educational programme.