Michal Chelbin’s photos elicit the timelessness of portraiture but also the timeliness of the political moment in Ukraine.
The Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin has made images of Ukrainian teen-agers at two different locations during two distinct periods: first, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, in 2008, and then in and around Kyiv, in 2019. Each time, her subjects were on the precipice of adulthood, attending their high-school graduation, an event that includes a prom. Our view is that of an outsider, although Chelbin’s father was born in western Ukraine, and she grew up fascinated by the black-and-white portraits that he had brought with him when he left as a child. In some of Chelbin’s photographs, the teens re-create those old styles: a subject stands, for instance, with a hand resting on the shoulder of a peer sitting nearby. Unlike teens in the U.S., the young men’s dress varies quite a bit, from tuxedos or conventional suits to brightly colored jackets or uniforms. The young women wear ball gowns or more casual short skirts.
I was using this Fuji panoramic — but the problem was everyone stopped developing the film. You can’t get 220 film anymore and you needed to carry about 35 kilograms extra. I went to Leica and they did one camera for me that was digital panoramic, which is this S2 camera, and they make two lines and set it on black and white. I made four trips with it together with the film camera. In the last two trips I realized I was taking more pictures with this Leica and I am enjoying it more. The result is very comparable. The lens was exactly the same.
In the course of her half-century-long career, Iturbide has dedicated herself to documenting the daily lives, the mores, and the remarkable diversity of Mexican people, always with an eye for the dignity of her subjects.