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.
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 work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education. Through grants and the Moving Walls exhibition series, the Open Society Documentary Photography Project supports photography to engage and mobilize people around issues of justice and human rights.
VII was created in 2001 by seven of the world’s leading photojournalists, and by 2005 VII was listed in third position in American Photo’s “100 Most Important People in Photography.” VII now represents 23 of the world’s preeminent photojournalists whose careers span 35 years of world history.