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Closer is an extraordinary collection of photographs of Elinor Carucci's family. It is not like Richard Billingham's Ray's a Laugh, exposing the secrets and shocking behavior of the family. It is rather a series capturing her family at odd moments of intimacy. Carucci's relationship with her mother is central, showing how she identifies with and loves her mother. In "Mother puts on my lipstick, 1993" we see her mother nurturing her daughter, who is 22 at the time of the photograph. In "My mother's back, 1996" we see the fading imprint, probably of a bathing suit, on her mother's skin. In "My mother and I, 1996," the two women are lying on a bed together. Her mother, lying on her back looking a little preoccupied, wears a nightdress, while Carucci is just wearing underwear, and is snuggling up to her mother. Their relationship is close, and certainly, her mother shows a tolerance for being photographed close up that most other mothers would probably not share.
Carucci takes pictures of small details that most people would not notice or maybe would not want to notice. "Zipper mark, 1999" is reminiscent of a fossil record of an ancient fish. "Oral surgery, 2000" shows streaks of saliva mixed with blood at the bottom of a bathroom sink. "Stress marks, 1999" shows the indentations from where she pressed her nails into her own hand. There is a slightly studied artfulness to such images, yet in the context of her work as a whole, they provide a sense of the images which might fleetingly strike one as moving.
Another theme in this collection is the relationship between husband and wife. The cover picture shows her husband Eran gazing into the camera lens over Carucci's nude body. "Wedding rings, 1999" show their torsos in a bath as they lie with their heads at opposite ends. "Bite #1, 2000" has her mother and father sitting on a bed, her father in his boxers, her mother in a black dress, playfully biting her husband's arm. "Mom touches father, 2000" is another moment of closeness, with her father looking into the lens, and her mother, with her head on her husband's chest, reaching up and holding his cheek. In "I hold Eran's wounded hand, 1998," we see the six stitches in his middle finger and we get a sense of the tenderness between her and her husband.
One feature that makes Closer unusual is the openness of the family. Her parents seem comfortable with Carucci's nakedness, and even to be photographed undressed themselves. Her husband Eran lies with his head in his father's lap and his father's arm resting on his shoulder. Her own father touches her hair lovingly but also with curiosity. Most families I know don't have the same casual intimacy once the children are adults, although there maybe an element of cultural difference here. It may be relevant that her family is from Israel.
Carucci's photographs are unique as a portrait of a family – no other photographer has done similar work. There's a sense of emotional poise to the work, and some might wish for greater urgency or drama to reveal how the family copes in crisis. However, Carucci is a young photographer, and there is plenty of time for her to expand the scope of her work. Closer is an impressive first book.
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Link: Elinor Carucci website
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© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.