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. Chelbin's portraiture is renowned for it visual contrasts—old and new, odd and ordinary, fantasy and reality—and for unmasking the legendary qualities not immediately apparent in individuals. The title Sailboats and Swans refers to the idiosyncratic and almost mocking, bucolic, and fantastical murals and wallpaper backgrounds she found throughout the prisons. These contradictions of life in prison abound in girls' flowery dress prison uniforms, murderers working as nannies to other women's babies in the new mothers' prison, young girls serving time alongside grandmothers—perhaps witness to their own futures, and the mesmerizing human blend of fear and cruelty in the boys' and mens' prison, where big tattooed bodies are now zombie-like, worn down by the daily travails of trying to survive being locked up in a world devoid of hope.
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