While investigating new leads in a French publication discussing the modern portrayal of girls, I came across an image I had initially mistaken as that of Eva Ionesco. A colleague of mine corrected my misperception and told me the girl’s name was Elsa and that an entire book, Elsa (1999), was devoted to her childhood, lovingly documented by her aunt, Ève Morcrette.
The book is a visual tale, interspersed with poetry, of a developing relationship and obsession in which Morcrette bonded with her little niece. Like many such endeavors, the artist got the opportunity to examine and relive her own childhood vicariously through Elsa, as though she were watching a version of her own sister from the past. The work appears to have developed in two stages. First, Morcrette found herself chasing Elsa, camera at the ready, sometimes coaxing her to cooperate by inventing some game or other. In those early days, she recalls taking pictures surreptitiously, hiding behind bushes and whatnot, hoping to catch a precious shot. One will notice how many of the early images are a blur of action and sometimes Morcrette was simply not fast enough to capture it.
At some point, Elsa, being self-conscious about fitting in with other kids, refused to let her aunt take any more pictures of her for a year. However, after that, a new collaboration emerged and Elsa began to take an active role in the production by handling the equipment, setting up the staging, choosing the costumes and helping with the lighting.
One memorable incident brought to light how the photographic sessions became an integral part of their personal bond. By accident, Elsa dropped Morcrette’s Leica camera, breaking it. When the impact of what had happened hit them, they found themselves embracing each other and weeping bitterly over the incident.
Given the personal nature of this exploration, it is surprising that virtually no biographical information can be found on Morcrette, except for her artistic accolades. It would be reasonable to say that she was probably born around 1960 in or around Paris, France. Elsa was born in July 1980, but Morcrette was not compelled to start photographing her until 1983—her first picture taken next to the living room window in an apartment in Paris.
Later, Elsa had a little brother, Alix. When he got old enough, he began to resent his aunt’s lavish attention on Elsa and would mischievously hide her equipment, much to her distress. Morcrette regrets the anger she expressed during those times, which often brought her to tears. Another important addition to the family was a tabby cat named Duchess and so in those later years, pictures of Alix and Duchess also began to appear.
Morcrette exposed Elsa to culture, sometimes taking her on trips to Britain. In 1998, the work concluded and Elsa moved on to the next chapter of her life—going to school to study film and falling in love. The artist got a number of awards for her work, but it should never be forgotten that both photographer and model worked together to create this work, acting as mirrors of each other through time.