Elinor Carucci’s Emotional Portrait of Middle Womanhood

Popular culture purports midlife is the provenance of men — the time where he gauges his mortality by trading in the mini-van for a sports car, leaving his wife of 20 years for a younger model. But what of the middle-aged woman? What happens to her? It seems she often just disappears from the narrative altogether. 

But behind closed doors, whispers occur, stories of “the change” or something far worse. Midlife, for women, has been treated like a curse, as internal and external signs of aging have been used to erase women, keeping their struggles largely hidden from view. Midlife (The Monacelli Press) by Israeli-American photographer Elinor Carucci breaks this unfortunate history.

Three Generations, 2016. © Elinor Carucci

“I didn’t set out to make Midlife; it dawned on me at some point that I am creating it,” says Carucci, who worked on the project for seven years. She began by making works she saw as different series  – photographs of her mother and daughter, her father and son, herself and husband, as well as poignant photographs of abstract paintings she made with her own blood.

Carucci reveals, “Those things are sometimes mysterious to you even though you the one making them. It started with thinking about seeing blood, something that starts when we are 12 or 13. We look at blood monthly and I was looking at more of it because I had a medical condition and my periods were really heavy. Like everything in life that I am emotionally or intellectually invested in, I want to photograph it to try to understand it better.”

Elinor Carucci’s new book, Midlife – published by Monacelli Press


Eran and I, 2013. © Elinor Carucci

Carucci deftly connects the color red with symbols of femininity like red lipstick and the red dress before delivering a powerful punch: a photograph she made after waking up following her hysterectomy. On a small hospital table, her uterus is laid out in full, betraying nothing of the lives it once carried, documented in her previous book, Mother. It’s a heavy image, visually, viscerally, and psychologically traumatic yet brave and strong, the ultimate manifestation of that which has rendered women’s bodies a battleground.

“It was challenging to create this image mentally, physically, and circumstantially with the hospital. Something very sad was happening and I wanted to photograph it,” Carucci says. “For me, photographing is a way to deal with loss. We lose all the time. No day will ever return. It was also another way to preserve something with photography that I am saying goodbye to and just be there with my camera, which has always allowed me to see and feel more, and take the picture.”

Workout, 2016 © Elinor Carucci

This intensity of feeling is present throughout Carucci’s work, whether she is looking at the changes to her body or to her role as mother, daughter, and wife. Midlife is a complex, multi-faceted portrait of a single woman who understands the impact of detail. “Even though I am photographing myself and it comes from a very personal place, I am always trying to look at the universal essence. I always have to photograph in order to understand it better and to see it deeper,” Carucci says. 

“I wanted to look into what it is: the good and the bad, the complexities of every age and share it, and also share the beauties and the strength. It’s not just that we have more wrinkles and grey hair; it’s there but it’s so much more. It’s an age when we are in the height of a lot of aspects of our lives, many times professionally. In a way, it’s the prime. We are so much wiser, smarter, and more knowledgeable. Some of the book is wanting to celebrate that and the other part of the book is my way of celebrating the flaws and the difficulties of life.”

Winter, 2016. © Elinor Carucci

Carucci does just this by fearlessly facing uncomfortable truths, while simultaneously embracing the blessings that are here today on earth to create photographs that break the silence long held in public spaces. “There is something about honesty and truthfulness, and looking at things close-up,” Caucci says.”The deeper we go as human beings make us connect to the world and the world connect to us. It touches people and it makes them sometimes look back at themselves differently.” 

“More and more, we feel lonely in this world. It can be very comforting when we realize we are not alone in the way we see ourselves, our insecurities, fears, flaws, and anxieties — there is human solidarity in it.”