In the light of recent unrest in Russia, caused by long suppressed call for freedom of the individual, Interrogations really resonates.
The recently published book questions the issue of state domination and uncertain position of individual within it. It is tempting to assume that this is portraiture of Russia and its often inhuman and corrupt dealing with its citizens.
However, the author Donald Weber calls for a wider look at the notion of modern state as a pointless act of unnamed power. In his own words: “The unseen subject of these photographs is Power. They show us the human limits to the understanding of Power. There are many things we don’t know about Power. We don’t know if Power is the same everywhere, if its manifestation in one place and time is meaningful, measurable, subject to the same laws as in another. We do know that Power is dangerous and exhilarating and expands in proportion to its invisibility.”
The word interrogation is a sharp invoker of manipulation and desperation, physical and psychological torture. But it’s the psyche that is a focus of this project – the mental state of petty thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers, driven into despair, in the moment when one knows there is no escape and things can only go worse. The closeness of photographer brings about an impression of guilt by participation in this grimly intimate, secret affair.
And not everyone can take it. Question of complicity and the level of involvement of the photographer made the series highly controversial, bringing a wave of criticism to which Weber responded: “…the reasons I was there were not for judging them, but was to actually show something very special in the terms of the secrecy of the act. I made a special document precisely because it was about the ‘absence of the void,’ that it showed humans at their most vulnerable and most cruel. This series could easily be judged along the same lines as a war photographer that constantly gets criticized for not doing anything, for not jumping into the fray. What I saw was a process; we may not enjoy or agree with this process, but it’s a process that has a very long history in humanity – confession.’ (Citation)
The images look almost staged, which is chilling when you know that the photographer spent several months locked in interrogation cell together with cops and petty criminals, patiently waiting for the right moment.
The design of the book, published by Schilt Publishing, is focused on telling the story and it manages to do that with an exceptional eye for detail. The cardboard cover the book is inserted in is the same that is used on the notice board in police waiting room. Sliding the book out of the cover feels like uncovering a secret government file. The hand bound, pink soft cover is copy of the wallpaper in interrogation room – an absurd contrast to the haggard people sitting in front of it.
The “Prologue” of the book sets the mood with a series of photographs depicting the desultory eastern European landscape that Weber spent six years photographing. The second, larger part, called simply “Interrogations” is filled with powerful portraits that have won Weber several awards. The epilogue is a story of Ukrainian ‘fixer’ by Larry Frolick, and post scriptum by the author called “Confessions of an Invisible Man”. But no explanations for the book are offered. The questions are left for us alone to answer.
Interrogations is published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.