Interrogations is about a place where justice, mercy, hope, and despair are manufactured, bought, bartered, and sold; a sound-proofed factory where truth is both the final product and the one thing that never leaves the room.
From 2005 to 2012, Donald Weber traveled through Russia and Ukraine photographing the physical and emotional ruins of the unstoppable storm called history. Meeting and living with ordinary people who had survived much—from wars and conflict, to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, to the fall of the Soviet Union—he began to see the modern state as a primitive, bloody, and sacrificial rite of unnamed and unchecked power.
Interrogations is the result of a personal quest to uncover the hidden meaning of the bloody 20th century, as displayed through private encounters with state power. With each image, he was looking to make a simple photograph of police interrogation in progress, but also a complex portrait of the relationship between truth and power. For truth in this context is a complicit act, a mutual recognition—however fleeting—between those who hold, and those who must surrender to power. This work interrogates the interrogators.
Over 90 percent of all charges in the Russian judicial system end in guilty pleas, and only experienced criminals or wealthy defendants stand a chance in such a system. It is not designed to give everyone a fair trial. Behind closed doors, the feudal system’s trial by ordeal is still very much in existence. Without confessions and guilty pleas, courts everywhere would grind to a halt in an instant.
In this way, Interrogations is more than a documentation of the policing practices of a particular time and place. It is a meditation on what these interrogation rooms, and the people who enter and leave them, represent. They are young and old, male and female, weak unfortunates and hardened criminals, all orphans of secret histories and hidden dramas that are scripted and played out by the modern state.
Prior to pursuing photography, Donald Weber trained as an architect and worked with Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2007), the Dorthea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize (2006) , the Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography (2009), and first prize, portrait stories, at the World Press Photo contest (2012).
Weber is the author of Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl, on daily life in a post-atomic world, and Interrogations, which examines authority and power in Russia and Ukraine. His work has appeared in the Guardian, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Stern, and Time, and he has had solo exhibitions at the United Nations, the Portland Museum of Art, and the Alice Austen House (New York). He is a member of the VII Photo Agency. Weber’s photographs from Interrogations are currently showing in Open Society Foundations’ Moving Walls 20 exhibition.
The Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros, are the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights. George Soros opened his first international foundation in Hungary in 1984.
Today, the Open Society Foundations support a vast array of projects in more than 120 countries, providing thousands of grants every year through a network of national and regional foundations and offices.
VII is a storied photo agency, founded a few days before 9/11 to challenge the convergence in the photography business, when the trend for giant companies swallowing smaller independent agencies started. VII went small and photographer-owned, believing in the power and energy of collective effort, when everyone else seemed to be going big and corporate.
VII remains a disruptive and innovative business, unafraid to swim against the prevailing currents. VII has turned its gaze far from the frontline of its foundation. It has earned a reputation for uncompromising photography immersed in the great issues of today. VII photographers and filmmakers are as likely to be found focusing on race, gender, and identity, as they are on migration or conflict.
Amplifying local voices and addressing the complex political, environmental, and social questions facing families everywhere, VII places great value in the power of images to tell important stories. The members of VII are motivated by issues, and are proud to elevate those issues above the cult of the image, or the cult of the photographer.
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Artist Talk: Donald Weber
Following an exploratory trip to Chernobyl in 2005, Donald Weber soon returned to the abandoned site of the nuclear disaster and spent the next six years in Russia and Ukraine photographing the ruins of the unstoppable storm we call history. Traveling and living with ordinary people who had survived much, had survived everything, Weber began to see the modern State as a primitive and bloody sacrificial rite of unnamed Power.Learn More