An Artist Takes an Unflinching Look at Her Own Hysterectomy

Carucci—an Israeli American photographer whose award-winning editorial work has appeared in WIRED—isn’t one to shut her eyes. Like photographers Nan Goldin and Sally Mann, she often reaches for the camera at moments others might set it down. Her parents’ divorce, her marital infidelity, and other family dramas figured into her earlier autobiographical works. The last, Mother (2013), captured the birth of her twins and early motherhood—a profound but intense season when stretched skin, sagging breasts, and other changes set in.

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‘Workout,’ captured in 2016, documents the quest for a young body. Photograph: Elinor Carucci

It wasn’t until her early forties, though, that Carucci started to look and feel significantly different. There were gray hairs that stuck straight up. Wrinkles no cream could smooth. Weird nipple stickers to peel off after mammograms. Her children seemed to need her less; her parents, she knew, would soon need her more. But it was the hysterectomy—prompted by a worsening case of menorrhagia—that triggered a reckoning. “It was like, ‘I woke up this morning with a uterus, and now, a few hours later, I don’t have one and never will,” she says.

Photography no longer comforted her; it confronted her with her own mortality. But she didn’t avoid it, as some women begin to do, deftly stepping out of the shots at family gatherings. Instead, she fit her camera with a macro lens and turned on powerful strobe lights to illuminate aging skin, facial hair, and even blood. The images pair the precision of a scientist with all the drama of Caravaggio, an artist who embraced what his own era deemed vulgar and profane, insisting art “be made and painted from life.” In the same spirit, Carucci set up her camera with a self-timer near the dinner table, TV, and bed to capture changing family dynamics. The compositions are sometimes staged, but more often arranged—”what’s happening [in the frame] is very spontaneous,” Carucci says.

Carucci lies with her daughter and mother in ‘Three Generations’ from 2016. Photograph: Elinor Carucci

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