Prom Pictures of Ukrainian Teens on the Verge of an Uncertain Adulthood

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.

Michal Chelbin | JENREN

NPPA's most prestigious honor, the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, has been presented this year to two of the industry’s most likable and significant trailblazers, longtime photojournalist Charles W. “Chick” Harrity, retired from U.S. News & World Report Magazine, and Dennis Dimick, the executive environment editor and the interim director of photography for National Geographic Magazine.

Michal Chelbin Sailboats and Swans

Michal Chelbin's latest body of photography, shot in seven prisons in the Ukraine and Russia over the past six years, explores what it means to be locked and constantly watched—and to be looking back at such a person in this surreal world within a world

LightBox | Time

Read the latest stories about LightBox on Time

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.

Worlds Without Smiles: Prison Portraiture by Michal Chelbin

Last month the New Yorker Photobooth ran a sneak preview of Michal Chelbin’s tentatively titled Locked series. At the time, I responded with some personal frustration that her portraits didn&…

Last month the New Yorker Photobooth ran a sneak preview of Michal Chelbin‘s tentatively titled Locked series. At the time, I responded with some personal frustration that her portraits didn’t tell me enough of the subject’s experience. Having invited Chelbin to answer a few questions it is clear she uses ambiguity and mystery as tactics in her photography.