From Amanda Smith’s exhibition review of “Michal Chelbin | Sailboats and Swans” at CLAMP for Museé Magazine:
Michal Chelbin is a photographer who has gained unprecedented access over a six-year period to capture images of male and female inmates living in prisons. She completed her sessions by focusing on the complex gaze of the captives, and sought to express the human hiding inside the confining walls of the jail cell. The photographic lens captured the backgrounds of extravagant wallpaper depicting pastoral landscapes, reminiscent scenes of the inmates’ now inaccessible hometowns. Despite life behind bars being full of contrasts, such peculiar decorations added familiarity to their mundane surroundings. Michal Chelbin’s main objective was to depict a multifaceted image of each of her incarcerated subjects by going beyond their crimes. Her work took on a profound nature, and what began as a random collection of photographs became a series of enigmatic moments in the lives of these incarcerated people. Some individuals clearly depicted the roughness usually associated with life in prison, while others revealed the essence of humanity; ghosts of the lives they used to lead. It feels as if the subjects all make eye contact with the viewer, directly evoking a sense of empathy. Chelbin, who didn’t ask about the offenses until after she was done photographing, compels us to look into the eyes of imprisoned people before we even knew their crimes. The prisoners portrayed become all too relatable, and as a result, the distinctions between us and them become blurred, and we begin to perceive them as fellow human beings.