looking inward

Last week, I discovered Elinor Carucci’s recent photographs of herself and her twins. I love them, and I love that she calls it “A limited glimpse into my most recent body of work — my children.” Once you see them, you’ll see the emphasis on body. (Go look at them, but they’re probably not safe for work.) I first discovered Elinor Carucci’s work last fall when her work was exhibited on Women in Photography. I was transfixed by her images then, and they stayed with me long after I stopped looking at them over and over. Her new work is no exception. For me, they present the sheer physicality of motherhood in a way you can’t ignore. And they’re challenging to look at; they really make you question our ideas about motherhood. I especially love the one where she’s standing naked, soon after giving birth with her c-section incision still covered with gauze and a linea nigra (or whatever it’s called – I can’t remember anymore) striping down her belly, her engorged breasts standing out above eye level like a porn star’s. Somehow that really speaks to me about how oversexualized breasts are in our culture.

A few days after seeing Carucci’s new work, I saw this blog post, which wonders why it seems that only thin, conventionally beautiful women do nude self-portraits, and they cited Carucci as one of those. I have noticed that trend too, although more in the context of flickrites’ work, where photographers seem to be capitalizing on their conventional beauty. But I see Carucci’s work differently. Her beauty isn’t the subject of her self-portraits, and in some of her pictures she even looks a bit freakish. For me, that’s part of the appeal of her images, that willingness to show herself in less than flattering ways.

I went to a portraiture workshop today that was all about making people look pretty in pictures. I thought it would be good for me to learn these techniques, so I can employ them when I want to, but after a day of learning rules and formulas, I’m just not that into it. I remember at the workshop with Ruth Kaplan I went to last summer, there was at least one professional portrait photographer attending. And Kaplan commented on how awkward it must be to photograph the person who is paying you.

That said, I’m really beginning to doubt myself. Tonight I saw a quote where a photographer remembered being asked by his teacher, whether his photographs were interesting enough to get him to leave his naked girlfriend in bed to go out and make them. The pictures I make at the drop-in centre would get me out of bed to make them. But I’m worried the images aren’t achieving my intention. I want to make portraits that make you wonder, about the person you’re looking at and their experiences, but also about the interaction that went on between me and the person, about what drew me to them (or them to me). That said, I can’t control how people see my pictures or the people in them, and as I realized from The True Meaning of Pictures, what you see in a photo is informed more by your own mind and preconceptions than by what’s in the photograph or the photographer’s mind.

Last week was a good week for me finding inspiring photographers. Nymphoto did an interview with KayLynn Deveney, whose work I hadn’t seen before. I can’t wait to buy her book, The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings. She made pictures of her neighbour, then had him caption the photos in a notebook. So the book shows her selection of images, and his captions in his own beautiful handwriting.

I also found her other portfolio, Edith and Len, fascinating, as it combines her pictures of an elderly couple in their retirement home room with her own introspective journal entries about the process of documentary photography. I want to pick out my favourite bits from her journal entries, but I think it’s better just to go through the whole portfolio and experience it yourself. I will say that I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling some ambivalence about photographing people.

[insert thoughtful and insightful conclusion here]

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