Strangely Familiar

Acrobats, Athletes, and Other Traveling Troupes


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In her sympathetic pictures of performers from small towns in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, England, and Israel, Michal Chelbin offers a glimpse into worlds both strange and familiar. The settings, costumes, and subjects themselves may seem exotic, but her portraits capture a transcendent sense of individual character.

Chelbin’s most frequent subjects are children and adolescents, yet her work encompasses a mix of generations. As Leah Ollman notes, “The atmosphere falls somewhere between public and private. There’s a slight titillation of having personal access to performers who, typically, are experienced only remotely. Most immediate, though, are the visual contrasts between young and old, large and small, innocence and experience.”

The palette is intensely appealing, with a distinctive use of saturated pinks, blues, and greens. Chelbin’s black-and-white images, intermingled throughout the book, have an almost Pictorialist richness. Though her influences are evident—most notably August Sander and Diane Arbus—the compelling photographs in Strangely Familiar, Chelbin’s first monograph, have a unique visual and emotional impact.

This project was made possible, in part, through the generosity of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Michal Chelbin’s (born in Haifa, Israel, 1974) work has appeared in solo shows in Israel, Los Angeles, and New York, and in group shows internationally, and is held in many collections, including Palazzo Forti, Verona, Italy; Sir Elton John Collection; and Tel Aviv Museum of Art.


Photographs by Michal Chelbin
Designed by Francesca Richer
9 1/2 x 11 inches
122 pages
22 black-and-white and 33 four-color images
Spring 2008

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