In 2004 I became a mother.
My daughter, Emmanuelle, and son, Eden, were born in August of that year. After a blissful pregnancy, my labor had to be induced; I ended up with an emergency cesarean section that left me wounded, weak, and in pain. A few days later I was sent home to my new life as a mother of twins. The days passed, some quickly and others slowly. At the same time that I was getting to know my babies, I was also getting to know myself better. Motherhood revealed the best and the worst in me. 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.
I tried somehow to deal with it all through my camera, hoping to portray the complexity of motherhood as honestly as I could. The need to photograph became even stronger when I realized how painfully apparent the passage of time is in the life of a child. Moments that will never come back have passed before my eyes, easily escaping my camera. I felt compelled to preserve those moments somehow.
It took a few years for the photographer and the mother in me to learn to coexist. Sometimes, to my surprise, my two identities empowered each other, especially when I acknowledged the positive effect my work had on the children. They took pride in the fact that they were my source of inspiration, that everything about them – the good days and the bad, their flaws and mistakes – was fascinating to me. Through my photographs I embraced all sides of our relationship, making every aspect of our life together, for myself and for them, a legitimate topic to be discussed as well as photographed.
Sometimes an image compounded past and the future: I could see the kids as they were then, and also how they might be when they are older. Sometimes it was my own guilt that I photographed. Looking at a picture reminds me of what I did wrong, but sometimes it helps me forgive myself. It’s painful knowing that I will not always be able to protect them. Taking pictures of them is a way to try to deal with that pain. My images are a way both to keep them mine and to keep me theirs, keep me there.
The life of a child is so intense that everyday activities – brushing teeth, taking a shower, getting a haircut –become theatrical moments. In my prior work, I’d always had to search for such human drama; now I had only to make sure there was a light up, a camera ready, so I wouldn’t miss it.
In some ways the process felt familiar to me. Parenthood meant putting myself on hold, much as I had done through my photography before I became a mother. For me, photography had always meant to observe someone so completely that I became absorbed by my subject. But there was a limit to the experience: this time-framed version of me would disappear by the end of the shoot. Motherhood infused my entire life with such observation and absorption. After the birth and those first tough weeks, I became afraid motherhood would take me over, limit me, restrict me. But instead it became a window onto so much of what I feel life is really about. It distilled everything to its essence, allowing me to go as deeply as I possibly could with another person and with myself, enriching me both as an individual and as an artist.
I am still, and always will be, my children’s mother. I watch them as I mother them, learning so much, seeing so much. Photographing them forces me to see even more, and the children to show me more. Even when they are not with me, I see more of the world around me. I have never seen as much as I do now, as a mother.
Artwork and text by Elinor Carucci © 2013