Tag Archives: Young Boys

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

Inside the World of Turkish Oil Wrestling

The sport ofyal gre, or oil wrestling,is at the heart ofKrkpnar, afestival in the Turkish city of Edirne. Thousands of people will come to see these wrestlersslick with olive oilcompete in the 651stannual games on July 2. Itll be a familiar sight for Turkish photographer Pari Dukovic, who attended the event in 2010 and 2011.

I saw that the sport had an Old World charm to itthe festival, the prayers, the music, the instruments, the outfits, says Pari, who used to watch the festivals coverage as a teenager. I am drawn to subject matter that makes you feel as though you are traveling through time andKrkpnarfascinated me with its history and how it has remained an integral part of Turkish culture.

As the festival begins, drum and horn players parade through the city with the sports grand prizethe Krkpnar Golden Belt. The community then meets in the grand 16thcentury Selimiye Mosque, where the imam gives a sermon in honor of competitors past and present.For the young boys participating in the traditional Turkish coming-of-age ceremony known asSunnet Dugunu, its desirable to celebrate it at the same time asKrkpnar, as the festival represents to many the ultimate in male achievement. The boy in the mosque in slide #10 wears the ornate cape associated with the ritual.

After the sermon, wrestlers pray at the graves of legendary sportsmen and proceed through the streets to the competition field, singing the national anthem. The master of ceremony introduces the wrestlers to the audience, reciting their names, titles and skills in verse. Cheap Digital Cable TV . Very few of the wrestlers, who range widely in age, make a living from the sport. Nevertheless, Pari says hegot the clear sense that being a part of this event is a dream come true for them. They train for a whole year and often travel from villages all over Turkey to participate, so becoming aKrkpnarwrestler is an achievement they take great pride in, he says.The wrestlers, wearing nothing but short leather trousers, get rubbed down with olive oil. This makes the goal of the matchto throw ones opponent on his backall the more difficult. The matches last about 30 minutes each, while the final bout can last up to two exhausting hours.

I think the dedication that goes into what they do is amazing, says Pari. I hope that my photographs stand as visual documents of this tradition and that my respect is captured in these images.

Pari Dukovic is a New York City based documentary photographer. See more of his work here.

Stephen Shames’ Bronx Boys


© Stephen Shames

Stephen Shames spent over twenty years photographing young boys growing up in the Bronx. Although the project started as a simple photojournalism assignment, Shames quickly became fascinated by the neglected New York suburb and continued to document the vibrant streets. The fruits of his labor are finally being published as a digital monograph titled Bronx Boys (FotoEvidence). The unconventional format provides universal access to readers from around the world, as well as options to zoom in on images for close viewing.

Stephen Shames worked with Aperture for his book The Black Panthers, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Party. The Black Panthers Portfolio, an accompanying set of photographs is now on sale! Visit the Black Panthers microsite.

Shames is founder of Lead Uganda, which puts AIDS orphans and child soldiers into school in Uganda. He is represented by Steven Kasher Gallery, New York, and Polaris Images. He currently resides in Brooklyn.