Intimate Portraits of Russian and Ukrainian Prisoners

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The prisoner’s eyes expressed a “mesmerizing human blend of fear and cruelty.” That was his first encounter, three years ago, photographer Michal Chelbin tells The New Yorker — a passing exchange of eye contact over a high brick wall somewhere in Ukraine. Drawn in, the photographer returned to the prison and began his new series Locked. He shot portraits without asking questions about his subjects’ crimes. Girls slumped side-by-side on a juvenile hall bed. Young men with tattoos, in slippers. Lanky, fur-hatted boys with James Cagney glares clustering in the prison yard. Looking at the portraits is like intercepting the brimming eye-contact between the photographer and the prisoners. What did they do? Is their punishment fair? Are they guilty? Incorrigible? Proud? Innocent? Before Michal Chelbin’s solo show comes to NYC’s Andrea Meislin Gallery in 2012, meet their eyes in our gallery and judge for yourself.

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Masha, Women’s Prison, 2010. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Vova and Alexander, Men’s Prison, 2010. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Black Heart, Juvenile Prison, 2009. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Young Prisoners, Juvenile Prison, 2009. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Lena and Katya, Juvenile Prison, 2009. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Stas, Juvenile Prison, 2009. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Sergey, Men’s Prison, 2010. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Marina, Juvenile Prison, 2009. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Natasha, Women’s Prison, 2009. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Nadia, Women’s Prison, 2010. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Bamby, Juvenile Prison, 2010. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery

Photo credit: Michal Chelbin. Sailing Boat, Juvenile Prison, 2010. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery