Sailboats and swans Michal Chelbin ; interview by A.M. Homes

This book’s title is unusual because it refers to the background wallpapers and murals of the prisons in the Ukraine and Russia, in front of which the Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin shot his subjects. This makes the portraits of the male and female prisoners all the more eerie. The shooting process was long, as it sometimes took hours before the subject opened up, although Chelbin didn’t want to know their crime beforehand, so as not to be influenced. In the interview she describes that a lot of preconceived ideas she had about prisons turned out to be false. She didn’t feel fear in contact with the prisoners and instead of violence she felt the boredom of their daily routine. It is surprising to see the old faces next to the young ones and how angelic some look, one girl even holding her baby in a prison for women and children. Chelbin usually photographs alternative worlds, like in previous books, wrestlers, circus people who function according to different sets of rules. I found this book interesting because it takes us out of our comfort zone and shows us a world which we see only in movies. Her subjects seem to question us and make us wonder how you end up in prison.

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