Elinor Carucci, David Hilliard, Mickalene Thomas – Caress

Review by Gerhard Clausing

These days it is especially refreshing to see projects that honor caring for others. Yoffy Press has a program that persuades three photographers to contribute work to a concept, resulting in a trio of small books. In this case the topic is “caress” – an idea that can be widely interpreted. When done well, as it is here, the end result not only reflects a creative collaboration of three artists who bring their unique vision of the concept to the project, but it also allows the viewer/reader to apply their own interpretation to what is presented in the three contributions, presented in the form of a triptych of books. Keeping that in mind, I will describe and analyze what I see here, but I will be especially careful to leave room for your own interpretation of what you see as well.

The three paperbacks each have between 40 and 58 pages, with unifying covers, as shown above. The color and lettering already put you in a gentle mood, and one is curious to see what content awaits. The viewing of the pages, due to the excellent and varied layout, sequencing, and printing, is an enjoyable experience that has you coming back many times.

Elinor Carucci’s contribution is a strong approach to a mother’s caring for a child with a chronic illness. Aside from the particular mother and child photographed here, all children have special needs and need much nurturing (for many years) which is at best provided by a caring parent. In these images we see the mother’s concern for the child’s future as well as the uncertainty and vulnerability of the child. The images are very much up close and personal, and show us the special bond and love between the two. Our own thoughts and emotions are taken back to our own childhood to ponder the promise that came from the initial moments of caress of a mother’s love that we wish everybody has experienced.

David Hilliard’s contribution broadens the topic to incorporate all ages and genders. We see moments of caring, extending ourselves to others, in all kinds of potential relationships; the emphasis is on potential, and the interpretation is subject to each individual’s needs, interests, and preferences. In fact, even gazing at these images, from whatever perspective, is a form of caress, and an emotional undertaking. Viewing the photographs is a vicarious experience that allows us glimpses of all the caring that we wish to exist. It is a moving experience to contemplate both these connections as well some of the potential downsides, such as ultimate loss, loneliness, or lack of acceptance, experiences that we can connect to similar events in our own lives.

Mickalene Thomas has created a photobook for this topic that at first seems a bit of a challenge. The images show what seems to be the same young woman lounging in a relaxed way, in personal comfort, and we are looking in from the outside. It seems to be all about how we choose to present ourselves, perhaps a study in identity and identities. The presentation is straight-forward, enhanced by graphics that look like magazine clippings. Our lives are made up of many bits and pieces, and it is our task to integrate all the elements in a loving fashion. This project strikes me as an exercise for how we view ourselves and the ‘other’ – how comfortable are we with our body, do we dare caress ourselves, are we proud of our body and identity and appreciate ourselves in the form we came into this world – without clothes, masks, and pretense.

This set of three photobooks is an interesting compendium of images that entice us to view our relationship to ourselves and with others. In a very creative fashion, it asks us to caress ourselves as we view representations of others that might be worthy of our caress as well. An exciting collaboration indeed!

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Elinor Carucci, David Hilliard, Mickalene Thomas – Caress­­­

Photographers:

Elinor Carucci (born in Jerusalem, Israel; lives in New York City)

David Hilliard (born in Lowell, MA; lives in Boston, MA)

Mickalene Thomas (born in Camden, NJ, lives in Brooklyn, NY)

Publisher:  Yoffy Press, Atlanta, Georgia, USA; © 2019

Paperbacks; 40, 58, and 44 pages, respectively; color images throughout; 6 x 8.75 inches (15 x 22 cm); printed in the USA

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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