Elinor Carucci, photographer of the ‘Cat Person’ kiss, talks about the image

Photographer Elinor Carucci, now famous for the image that accompanied the New Yorker short story “Cat Person.”
Nick Rapaz
Photographer Elinor Carucci, now famous for the image that accompanied the New Yorker short story “Cat Person.”

It wasn’t just the “Cat Person” short story that went viral.

When Kristen Roupenian’s fictional tale of an uncomfortable courtship took over the Internet this month, it was accompanied by a photographic illustration that showed two people kissing, up close.

The woman in the photographic illustration has her mouth closed. A bearded man’s mouth is about to take over.


Every time the New Yorker piece was shared, the image appeared again.

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The photo — which the Globe can’t print because The New Yorker still has rights to it — was taken by Elinor Carucci, an Israeli-American photographer who happens to have taught at Harvard, and, more frequently, at Lesley University.

Carucci spoke to the Globe this week about the success of the story (which just earned Roupenian a seven-figure book deal), how she came up with the image to go with it, and what she likes about escaping to Cambridge.

Q. When were you contacted about illustrating “Cat Person”?

A. They contacted me about five weeks ago. They contacted me via e-mail. . . . I read the story and we had a conference call.


Q. What did you think of the story when you first read it?

A. I love the story just like everyone else. I liked that it felt like a piece of someone’s life. It felt real and ambiguous and complex, and you don’t know where it’s going. And throughout the story, it doesn’t feel like there is the good side and the bad side. You feel both of their insecurities and fears. I like that. Especially these days where I feel that everything is black and white.

Q. How did you decide what image to match with the story?

A. I was immediately drawn to doing one of the kisses, and there is the first kiss — where he kisses her on the forehead. It’s not a bad kiss, it’s actually a good kiss. And it’s more filled with compassion and comfort, and maybe even, like, fatherly somehow. It was either this or the bad kiss. We [shot] both actually, the bad kiss and the good kiss. There are pictures of the forehead kiss, as well.

Q. How were the kissers chosen?


A. My kind of work is that I photograph myself and my family, and [subjects] for real stories — sometimes sensitive or difficult stories. I know that I respond better to real people, real events, real emotions. I knew that if it’s a real couple, it brings more out of me. The other thing was we are talking about this kiss, and I was like, “These people will have to kiss now for a few hours.” I can’t make models do that. Kissing . . . you have to be in each others’ mouths. So it’s a real couple — not people I know.

Q. Who volunteered?

A. That came through The New Yorker. They found them. They had to look similar to the description. We had to have a beard.

Q. How many hours did it take you?

A. It was an afternoon. More than a few hours, like two or three hours total I was there, not shooting the whole time.

Q. Have you been able to meet the writer of the story?

A. No, I would love to, and I am so happy for her. I called my mom to tell her about this book deal today. My mom is in Israel, and I am like, “The writer got a book deal!” I am so happy. It just makes me happy as a woman and as a creative person myself.

Q. You’ve taught in Massachusetts. Can you talk about your work at Harvard and Lesley?

A. At Lesley, I started about three years ago. Christopher James, the chair of the graduate program, involves people in a way that you don’t have to be there every week. I can come for three or four intense visits over a few days and teach the whole semester. I have my students, and then I am in touch with them in between. When I don’t teach the full semester — which I will this coming fall, fall of ’18 — I will be guest faculty. I [also] do the end-of-the-year jury.

I have my routine [in Cambridge]. I have the same bed and breakfast; they know me. There, I don’t have my kids with me, so I can do things, or take my time, take a walk, and I know the restaurants, so it’s kind of a little bit of my life outside of New York and I love it.