Acrobats, Athletes, and Other Traveling Troupes.
Photographs by Michal Chelbin. Text by Leah Ollman.
Aperture, New York, 2008. 112 pp., 33 color and 22 duotone illustrations, 9½x11".
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.
Read the interview with Michal Chelbin on photo-eye Blog.
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