Michal Chelbin – Strangely Familiar
Publisher: Aperture, 2008
Hardcover, 111 pages, English
New in seal
In her sympathetic pictures of contortionists, dwarves, ballroom dancers and wrestlers from small towns in Israel, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and England, Michal Chelbin offers a glimpse into worlds both strange and familiar. Her subjects–usually individuals on society’s margins–tend to be portrayed offstage, at home, on the street or in a park, and in a disarmingly direct engagement with the viewer: “My aim is to record a scene where there is a mixture of direct information and enigmas and in which there are visual contrasts between young and old, large and small, normal and abnormal,” she writes. This sense of candid confrontation between subject and camera is particularly disarming when those subjects are prepubescent girls, whose bodies, as Chelbin puts it, “might be still that of a child, [but] their gazes sometimes imply differently.” Chelbin’s palette is intensely saturated with distinctive pinks, blues and greens, evoking a painterly atmosphere, even occasionally making explicit reference to art history. Though her influences are evident–most notably August Sander and Diane Arbus–the compelling photographs gathered in this first monograph have a unique visual and emotional impact.