Flush of Youth

Flush of Youth

Photographer, Michal Chelbin captures a rural population at the cusp of adulthood.

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The first societal recognition of youthful coupledom is at prom. With the end of high school and childhood, a recent memory, partnerships hold new weight. What was once brushed off as inconsequential and childish, the debut of duality seems like the most important thing in the world. For the first time, you are seen as more than just who you are. Judged by who your other half will be for the evening, you take on another’s reputation. The pairing also offers an escape, a chance to be more than your highschool self. To be someone’s other half, even if it’s just for the night.

During an unrelated project in Ukraine, Michal Chelbin noticed this coming of age milestone. “I have always been drawn to the idea of children dressing up and wearing costumes. It’s a recurring theme throughout my work,” explains Chelbin. Drawn to the outlandish and bizarre, between 2009 and 2019, Chelbin spent time documenting the proms within a small Ukranian village. Dressed in oversized suits, homemade gowns that seem to swallow frames, children eagerly attempt to veil their inexperience with the burden of heavy fabric, complex layers, and extra material.

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Fading Flamingos

Documentary photographer, Maximilian Mann immortalizes a temporal locale.

Largely unnoticed by the public world, a major environmental disaster is taking place in Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran. Where ten years ago the waves splashed against the walls of the villages, today you see an almost endless desert. Ships that once brought people from one side of the lake to the other now lie like stranded whales on the shore, decaying. 

Salt winds from the desert are spreading further and further over the residents’ fields, causing the crops to dry up. Robbed of their livelihoods, the inhabitants are fleeing to the surrounding towns, and the villages around the lake are dying out. 

Lake Urmia was once the second largest salt lake in the world, ten times bigger than Lake Constance in Germany. However, within a few years, the surface area of the lake has shrunk by 80 percent. Both climate change and the agriculture sector’s enormously high water consumption rates are responsible for this. If this disaster is not shopped, up to five million residents could be forced to leave the area in the future.

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Egypt, Mother and Son

A depiction of a universal bond, bound to no borders.

Denis Dailleux’s photo series, Egypt, Mother and son is a subliminal testament to the eternality  of boyhood. Dailleux who splits, his time between Paris and Cairo, began shooting his series in 2010 and finished in 2014, following a three year pause. Why a 60 year old man would be drawn to the relationships between mother and son, is a good question.  Dailleux speaks of a trying relationship with his mother, which he described as, “unhealthily close.” The lack of praise Dailleux received during his adolescent years cast a shadow of doubt across his creative pursuits. The photos of mothers and sons taken in Cairo show men with exaggerated proportions, some in childlike positions while others take on a protective stance. Dailleux explores how men, regardless of their age, interact and pose with their mothers. The men in the photos seem to be adorning their mothers, hanging off their arms, resting in their laps, seeking attention and affection. Though the men have bodybuilder physiques, their mothers capture the viewer’s gaze. Dailleux loves watching how the men position themselves when the camera is set up. Do they rest their head on their mother’s shoulder? Kneel down and bend their heads in their mother’s lap? Do they stand behind her, taking on the role of guardian? Dailleux’s series reveals how vulnerability and masculinity interact in a given situation. When your mother sits before you, what do your instincts tell you to do? 

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What drew you to the various sects of Ultra-Orthodoxy?

Abir Sultan: The Ultra-Orthodox maintain and embody the ancient traditions that have looked the same throughout history. Their homogeneity in dress is very strong graphically, and visually captivating. In photographing various Haredi sects, I’ve come to realize there is so much I don’t know about my own religion. It’s been fascinating to discover and reacquaint myself with Judaism. I grew up in Tel Aviv in a secular but traditional household. We celebrated holidays and Shabbat, but I never knew the depth or the reasoning behind the things we did. For me, observing the daily lives of the people in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, was like peering through a time capsule at what Judaism must have looked like during the Middle Ages.

Can you talk about each of the six photos in the series?

Abir Sultan: Mitzvah Dance was taken in 2018 in Bnei Brak during the wedding of Rivka Zirel, the granddaughter of the Vizhnitz Rebbe. The Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty is named after Vyzhnytsia, a town in present-day Ukraine. The customary Hasidic Mitzvah Dance allows for close male relatives to celebrate the bride on the eve of her wedding by dancing for her in front of thousands of onlookers.

Wedding was taken in 2012 in Bnei Brak. The bride in the photo is part of the Nadvorna Hasidic dynasty which originated in Nadvorna, Ukraine. She sits with her mother and mother-in-law watching her new husband dance with his friends and family.

Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the Son) was shot in 2016 in a Lelov Hasidic community in Mea Shearim. Pidyon HaBen is an ancient ceremony performed at the birth of a first-born male child. The ritual act, uses a coin as a type of barter to exempt their son from having to serve in the Temple as a priest, as was customary for first born males during the Temple periods. Nowadays, coins are symbolically given to redeem the child of the obligation.

Tu B’Shevat was shot in 2016. The holiday is celebrated by eating the new fruits that are blooming in Israel during the time period. The photo shows a group of Belz Hasidim reaching for oranges that have been blessed by their Rabbi.

Burqa Sect was taken in 2017 in Mea She’arim. The extreme-fringe group follows a strict code of modesty that has no basis in Jewish scripture or Halachic law.

Diving was shot in 2018 in the Nahal Prat nature reserve during Bein haZmanim (between the times), which refers to the summer vacation of the Ultra-Orthodox community. This particular photo is a metaphor for the whole body of work. The man in the photo is depicted in the water, which can be considered as “another world”. He is submerged, fully dressed and looks as though he’s drowning, but in reality, he is exuberant, jumping into the water unphased about getting his clothing wet. The series considers perception and what it means to look in from the outside and feel like an explorer in a foreign land.

Wave was taken in 2014 during a protest held by the Ultra-Orthodox against the draft into the Israeli Defense Forces. The March of the Million  is said to have drawn nearly one million Ultra-Orthodox individuals from all over the country. The onslaught of peaceful protestors claiming the Israeli government’s requirement to serve in the army (currently Ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempt), will impede their desire to live like their Biblical forefathers, devoting themselves to a life of Torah study. They don’t want their children to be affected by modern Israeli society, and believe a Jewish military presence can occur only in Messianic times.

Many Israelis believe there should be one law which requires all citizens to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. On the one hand, that makes a lot of sense. But on the other hand, a community such as this one, wholeheartedly committed to living just as their ancestors did are entitled to make their own choices. I think as a society, we have to respect their choices and practices. I do believe that if the Ultra-Orthodox did serve, Israel would have the best army in the world! The Ultra-Orthodox are masters at problem solving. The community living in Mea Shearim functions seamlessly. They take care of their own, give tremendous amounts of charity, have their own school systems and institutions. They have created a self-made society that thrives.

Was there any particular moment that had a lasting affect on you?

Abir Sultan: Shooting the Burqa image was very difficult for me to wrap my head around. I went home that evening feeling uneasy. I think I was in shock. Seeing little girls wearing burqas was very disturbing for me. The concept of covering up at such a young age is hard for me to understand. The group believes that completely covering their bodies will lead to salvation, and think matriarchs of Judaism dressed in this manner. The women, following the teachings of Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (referred to as the Rambam) claim the 12th century great sage said to adhere to modesty, Jewish women should cover their bodies when in the street. Modern Jewish Rabbinic leaders argue the Rambam absolutely was not referring to this type of dress.

Did you feel you had a connection with the people you photographed?

Abir Sultan: In a way, yes. It felt like I was peering into the past. There is something that draws me to them. Maybe the fact that there is so much they aren’t aware of, in terms of what is happening in the world today. I like how they aren’t connected to my reality at all. It makes me want to learn more about them. The people I photographed, were unaware of my presence. During my time visiting the community, my liaison was Yoelish Krois, a spokesperson and representative for his Mea Shearim community. Since my series began, we have become friends. Yoelish has 17 children and lives in a 2 room apartment. We couldn’t be more different, but despite our differences, we are able to connect as two humans. I put our differences aside and was able to learn from him and his way of life. His modesty, frugality and the way in which he and his family spend their time, are things I attempt to implement in my personal life.

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Like the soft petals of a flower tilting towards the sun, unfolding fervently to feel a touch of warmth, Tamar Karavan’s Open Hearts series reveals the innate inclination we have for connection. The series explores emotion, specifically within the female heart. The images depicted show the interiors of a pomegranate and an artichoke, revealing intricacies and layers only visible when the produce is susceptible to being seen. So to with the human heart, to be truly seen, we need to reveal our souls. To open “your heart” and remain vulnerable is the challenge that Karavan’s works portray. According to the artist, self-preservation is the driving force behind the heart’s vacillation between being open and closed. “To be understood for who we really are, we need to keep our hearts wide open,” urges Karavan. 

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