Tag Archives: Spent Three

Sailboats and Swans: The Prisons of Russia and Ukraine

What does prison look like?

In her latest body of work,  Sailboats and Swans, Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin challenges viewers to re-imagine the answer to this question. Working with her husband and co-producer, Oded Plotnizki, Chelbin spent three years photographing prisons in Ukraine and Russia from 2008 to 2010.

The pair used a network of connections, built over the 10 years they have worked in the region, to gain incredibly rare access to these facilities. What they found inside surprised them. Instead of grey concrete and steel, there were tropical wallpapers, lace-covered tables and furniture painted in glossy blues and greens. The prisoners in Chelbin’s photographs are not dressed in orange jumpsuits, but the floral housedresses, cloth jackets and rubber sandals common to village life in the region. Religious icons seem as ubiquitous as tattoos.

With only one day to work in each location, Chelbin and Plotnizki carefully explored these strange environments, quietly combing halls and common areas to find subjects for their portraits.

“It’s something I look for in their faces, their gaze,” Chelbin said, adding that it was intuition, rather than any specific characteristics, that guided their choices. “It’s not a formula. Some people have this quality that you can’t take them out of your head,” Plotnizki added.

The mood in each location varied widely. Chelbin and Plotnizki described the tense atmosphere of a young boys’ facility as a “living hell, ” while the residents of a men’s prison “were like zombies.”

But it was a prison for women and children in Ukraine that made the greatest emotional impact on Chelbin, who herself had two young children at the time of the shoot. In one frame from that facility, a nursery attendant dressed in white is pictured leaning on the corner of an oversized crib. Inside, toddlers play with rubber balls that mirror the bright, primary colors of a mural painted on wall behind them (slide #7).

The tired, distant expression of the attendant, whose name is Vika, is the only clue that this isn’t a happy scene. The children, we learn from Chelbin, were born in prison and have never known the outside world. Vika herself is a prisoner–charged with murder. She is also a mother, but cannot visit her own child who has been placed in an orphanage.

Chelbin chose not to ask each prisoner about their crimes until after their portrait sessions. Likewise, in the soon-to-be-released book of this work, captions containing the names and criminal charges of each prisoner are left to the last pages. In this way, viewers do not immediately know that a pair of sisters in matching dresses are in custody for violence and theft, or that a young man, reclining on a green iron bed, has been charged with murder.

There are a huge variety of faces in these portraits. There are young girls with pale, delicate skin and older women whose features are made severe with heavy makeup. There are boys so small they look more suited to grade school than prison and men whose scars indicate years of hard living. In all of them, though, there is a sense of dignity.

“I want people to look at the book and see themselves,” said Chelbin. “The circumstances of life could have brought anyone to this place.”

Michal Chelbin is an Israel-based photographer. See more of her work here

Chelbin’s latest body of work, Sailboats and Swans, will be released on Nov. 1 by Twin Palms Publishers. An exhibition of the work will be on display at the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York City from Oct. 18 to Dec. 22

Gregory Jones

When Gregory Jones shared his new project, Los Angeles, I experienced a bit of deja vu.  His photographs were transversing many of the same streets I travel on a daily basis and what may be a road trip for him, was unfortunately a reality for me.  These are images created with a disposable camera in preparation for a long term project.

After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in Fine Art Photography, Gregory received an artist residency in Bejing, China, currently he is working as the co-editor of the terrific Urbanautica Magazine  and working on his fine art photography.


Images from Los Angeles

Los Angeles, 2011In the Fall of 2011 I drove from
Rochester, NY to Los Angeles. where I spent three weeks working on the
first part of a long-term project. This isn’t the project.

When I left for my trip, I brought along about two dozen cheap disposable cameras. My intent with these was to make pictures that went against my normal formal style, and to make pictures that could most resemble pure documentation.

These pictures were made on the streets and highways of Los Angeles, as I drove around looking for places to make pictures.

If You Smoke Cigarettes in Public: Prostitution in Morocco

In 2010, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University awarded the twentieth Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize to photographer Tiana Markova-Gold and writer Sarah Dohrmann to produce their project If You Smoke Cigarettes in Public, You Are a Prostitute: Women and Prostitution in Morocco. The pair spent three and a half months of this year in the country, documenting the lives of sex workers to explore the complex nature of the choices Moroccan women face.

They approached the project with the express intent to “dismantle preconceived notions of the prostitute as sexual deviant,” an idea that Markova-Gold has explored in earlier projects on her own in the Bronx and Macedonia. Dohrmann had previously lived in Morocco, where she learned Moroccan Arabic and had begun writing about her interactions with female Moroccan sex workers. Their method is collaborative and unconventional, pairing Markova-Gold’s impressionistic and occasionally inscrutable photographs with Dohrmann’s narrative and very personal literary style. With time and space, the pair was able to cultivate deep and nuanced relationships with several women, resulting in a complex and holistic story. Working in a developing Islamic country during the Arab Spring allowed the pair to explore how other issues affected the subjects of their project, such as globalization, religion, politics and migration.

A wide-ranging and challenging subject deserves such a patient and extensive approach, and the pair has recently begun to work with their material in earnest. Typically the work for the Lange-Taylor prize is not revealed until the project is finished, but Dohrmann and Markova-Gold agreed to share some of the ideas they are working on exclusively with LightBox.

Markova-Gold shot primarily with film, but also used her iPhone to provide more instant feedback and evidence of the situations she was shooting. The photographs in the series above consist of iPhone photos, processed with the ShakeItPhoto app, which she found to be the closest approximation to her film work.  As the project progressed, she found the images resonated beyond their immediate use and ultimately are relevant to the final project. They are paired with some of Dohrmann’s preliminary writing, which was written in a daily log of their time together, and focuses on one of their subjects, Khadija. The final project, slated for completion by the end of the year, will feature film and digital photography from Markova-Gold, and a long-form essay by Dohrmann.

Editor’s note: All of the Moroccan women’s names published here have been changed in the interest of protecting their safety.

Tiana Markova-Gold is a freelance documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. More of her work can be seen on her web site and her blog.

Sarah Dohrmann is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bad Idea: The Anthology, Teachers & Writers Magazine, and The Iowa Review. You can read more of her work on her blog, Und You Vill Like It.

GAZA STRIP – A Film by James Longley

Filmmaker James Longley has completed a new documentary and is making it available for free. Any donations help out his future filmmaking. His words below. My links added.

In early 2001 I spent three months in Gaza filming material for this documentary, GAZA STRIP, working with local fixer and translator, Mohammed Mohanna. The second Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation had begun in September, 2000, and there had already been large numbers of deaths in Gaza when I started this project.

Though the period this documentary covers includes the election of Ariel Sharon as Israeli Prime Minister and large incursions by the Israeli Defense Forces into Gaza, in retrospect the time depicted here is one of relative quiet. More recent Israeli attacks against Gaza have been far more destructive and deadly than what falls into the scope of this film.

The time since the release of this film in 2002 has seen many changes, including the evacuation of illegal Israeli settlements inside the Gaza Strip and the election of Hamas. However, the occupation and attacks against Gaza continue, and the blockade of Gaza has intensified. It is my hope that this film will provide a partial introduction to Gaza for those who have come to the subject recently, and also serve as a document of its time.

I am making this film available completely free, however those who wish to contribute to my future filmmaking efforts may do so via PayPal or mail on my website:

daylightfactory.com/​gaza/​

Thanks!

GAZA STRIP from James Longley on Vimeo.

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