Thursday, April 10, 2008
subject echo: michal chelbin and alec soth
when i was looking through Michal Chelbin's portfolio earlier in the week, the top image, called "Janna and Alona, Russia, 2003," caught my eye. it made me think of Alec Soth's photo "Mother and Daughter, Davenport, Iowa 2002."
both reminded me that i have seen a lot of photographers lately whose work is described as following "in the tradition of Diane Arbus and August Sander." and i realized that i have seen frequent comparisons to Arbus for Chelbin and Sander for Soth (perhaps gender lines have something to do with this, as well as Chelbin's focus on circus people and other "strange" folks). yet to me, Arbus and Sander are very different (you could even say that Sander's universalizing eye was critiqued by Arbus's more minoritizing one...)
here, both Chelbin and Soth are exploring the idea of ethnography in their respective projects "Strangely Familiar" and "Sleeping By the Mississippi." what does it mean to go out with your camera and try to capture a people or a place (or the spirit of one in the other)?
so, just a sketch of an idea here... but back to the photos themselves — they have the echo of the legs and a similar bit of a louche air in the mood. Janna and Alona are Eastern European child circus performers, and the Mother and Daughter are in a brothel along the Mississippi in Davenport.
both might seem exotic to the viewer, but it's just everyday life for the subjects, and if nothing else, you could say both are "strangely familiar"...