Wrestling is a sport requiring intense exertion with direct and intimate contact between two opponents. This is not the wrestling entertainment common to late night television, but an athletic sport that harkens back to the first Olympic Games conducted in Greece. Two individuals grapple together, each attempting to gain some advantage over the other, slipping in and out of holds, or attempting to maintain a take-down in an effort to pin the other to the mat.
Michal Chelbin focuses her lens on the young and adolescent boys and girl wrestlers who are learning the necessary skills to compete. The place of these portraits is kept neutral with an attempt to stay relatively nondescript, nevertheless the location conveys as someplace with economic limitations and in Eastern Europe. The equipment and facilities appears Spartan, crude and very basic.
When confronted by portraits the viewer is drawn to the eyes, the posture and what is present, as well as to ponder what is not. Chelbin’s subjects’ objectively stare into the photographer’s lens, establishing direct contact with the photographer as well as with the viewer. The posturing may appear as neutral with most of her subjects directed to provide a forward facing stance, frequently in front of a colorful wall, perhaps similar to a mug shot. Unlike a studio portrait, the background wall is close and the painted surface’s condition is in focus and becomes an intricate component of these portraits. The use of a contemporary pose allows latitude for the viewer to construct their own narrative
For me these portraits recall memories of my high school wrestling team which I trained and competed with for three consecutive years. Thus I notice that the eyes in these portraits are not entirely expressionless as I sense fatigue by their tired and vacant stares. There is the presence of band-aids (known as plasters by my European friends), sweat, disheveled hair and wrestling attire, indicating that these individuals were plucked mid-stream from intense exertion during training. The personal combat is not seen, sometimes staged, but certainly felt.
Are we being in the presence of future Olympians? Chelbin teases us with these portraits and we are left to wonder what is the hope and aspirations of these individuals?
As a book object, this large hardcover with dust jacket is printed and bound in China. The captions are captured in an ending index with an Afterword story by Etgar Keret.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook