From Jake Romm’s review of “Michal Chelbin | Sailboats and Swans” for Photograph Magazine:
I am skeptical of portraiture as revelation. Scars and bruises and wrinkles and the curve of a mouth may attest to a person’s history, but only obliquely. Indeed, the portraits in Michal Chelbin’s “Sailboats and Swans” (on view through May 6)—of inmates incarcerated across seven prisons in Russia and Ukraine drawn from her 2012 monograph of the same name—are more expressive of the conditions and the fact of incarceration than anything about the incarcerated themselves.
Certainly there is ethical value in seeing these images—testaments, above all, to the existence of those whom society has warehoused away. And in this sense, Chelbin proves to be a deft portraitist, a masterful manipulator of color and shadow and depth of field. Blocks of color frequently form from the blurriness and darkness of the inmates’ garments and their shadows cast upon the walls behind their weathered faces. The dreamy greens, blues, and pinks of the backgrounds give the work a languid beauty—an intentional contrast with the subject matter. Just look at the magnificent tonal gradations that Chelbin creates across “Ira (Sentenced for Theft): Women’s Prison” (2009)—black, forest green, periwinkle—and then at Ira’s face, her pale bright skin, her distant stare one of resignation or dream-haze. The ambiguity of the composition refuses to impose a narrative upon the sitter.
Read the full article at Photograph Magazine.
Browse the exhibition “Michal Chelbin | Sailboats and Swans” at CLAMP.
Browse all of Michal Chelbin’s work at CLAMP.