Donald Weber thinks more deeply about his projects than any photographer I know. Thus it has been no surprise to see his intelligent and thoughtful responses to criticism about his fascinating new project “Interrogations”. The series shows Ukrainians under interrogation by police and at its heart is a story about the infliction of power. Weber writes, “Interrogation is all about manipulation and desperation, very violent psychological torture regardless where it’s practiced.”
Colin Pantall was the first I saw to ask Weber some questions about the project (be sure to read down through the comments too), and then Pete Brook of Prison Photography posted about the project and had an interesting response from Weber. Important issues are brought up at nearly every turn: Is the photographer, and/or viewer, complicit in these interrogations? What about the context of a Ukranian police station (and system of governance and justice) versus any other in the West? And can we compare this work in any way to the Abu Ghraib pictures, in terms of history, access and role of photography in documenting ugly things? I don’t have any answers for you, but I think reading these posts and looking closely at Weber’s work will provide much food for thought.
If you’re not familiar with Weber’s work you should definitely go back and read the Dvafoto Interview we did in 2008: Donald Weber: Inside the Imperium.
Update (by ML, 11/14): Colberg at Conscientious Redux links to this post in his post “About Being Complicit”. It made me think that I needed to expand my thought about why Weber’s project is so interesting to me. He says, “Let’s talk about Guantanamo Bay or Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, legal black holes, in which interrogations happened (and probably still happen, I don’t think anyone believes in Obama’s promises to fix things any longer) that make those depicted by Don Weber look like child’s play.”
I think that this is exactly why Weber’s project is so interesting and important. He draws the connection himself between what is happening in these limited scenes in Ukraine to the “psychological torture” in the nature of all interrogations. Thus this complictity question, if it means anything to me, is not so much to think about our role in these limited police actions when there is so much worse happening in the world. By showing us a little bit of what this form of human contact is about, Weber makes us think about all of it. I recently watched Taxi to the Dark Side, I can’t help but overlap the extractions of confession from petty criminals in a domestic legal situation to the same process in illegal and secret prisons. Because up until this moment, when Weber opens this world to us a little bit, they were equally hidden and both done in our name and for our security.