Tag Archive: donald weber
In 2010, fifteen young South-East European photographers and three masters met in Berlin for the SEE New Perspectives masterclass, organized by World Press Photo and Robert Bosch Stiftung. After the first meeting in Berlin all of the photographers were given a grant to photograph a story within the region but outside of their home country.
The resulting projects are now being exhibited in Belgrade, Serbia (on display until December 14 at the ARTGET gallery on Trg Republike) after debuting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in October. The show will soon move to Zagreb, Croatia and Berlin, Germany. The exhibition features an interesting concept of displaying oversized “magazines” each devoted to one photographer’s project, with only one image from each project along with the photographer’s name on the wall.
You can see all of the stories produced in the masterclass on the SEE New Perspectives website as well as more information about the organization of the project.
The photographers are:
Andrei Pungovschi, Romania
Armend Nimani, Kosovo
Bevis Fusha, Albania
Dženat Dreković, Serbia
Eugenia Maximova, Bulgaria
Ferdi Limani, Kosovo
Jasmin Brutus, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Jetmir Idrizi, Kosovo
Marko Risović, Serbia
Nemanja Pančić, Serbia
Octav Ganea, Romania
Petrut Calinescu, Romania
Sanja Jovanović (née Knežević), Serbia
Tomislav Georgiev, Macedonia
Vesselina Nikolaeva, Bulgaria
And the Tutors are:
Regina Anzenberger, Austria, artist, curator, photographer’s agent, gallerist
Silvia Omedes, Spain, president at Photographic Social Vision Foundation
Donald Weber, Canada, photographer VII Agency
I asked my old friend Jasmin Brutus, a Bosnian photographer who was part of the masterclass, to paraphrase the statement he gave at the Sarajevo opening which expresses his feelings about the years-long masterclass project: “We [the participating photographers] all returned with nice small toolbox which our employers will never know how to utilize. So, I think experience in the masterclass is very useful for my personal projects and for my job is almost useless. I gained new skills and my old skills got enhanced. But, for me the most important thing is that I met a group of really great people and great photographers.”
Congratulations to my friends from around the region who were able to take part in this interesting project and many of whom were able to produce terrific photo stories that may otherwise never have seen light or been published. I encourage you to explore the work published on the SEE New Perspectives site or peruse the photographers’ own websites linked above.
The video below features interviews with all of the photographers about their work and experience in the masterclass:
Kamerades is a new collective of photojournalists based in Belgrade who have come together to help develop independent photography in Serbia and to work on group projects documenting contemporary stories. They are currently working together to photograph the Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections, which will take place on Sunday May 6, 2012. These six photographers are contributing their own hard-edged and sardonic vision of the Serbian electoral process and how it reflects Serbian society. They call the project “Dirty Season”.
I think it is an important step for this group and Serbian photography in general to work on such collective projects, with financial support, and to have a community of like-minded photographers working together to get photographs published in their own voice. It is not easy, especially not here, but I admire their energy and efforts. With this in mind I had a few questions for the Kamerades crew about their formation and backgrounds. Given the timeliness of their new project with the elections this week, I chose not to show a portfolio of their work but this current electoral group project which I am so excited about. It is an incredible portrait of Serbia during this election cycle.
Kamerades is Saša Čolić, Nemanja Jovanović, Milovan Milenković, Nemanja Pančić, Marko Risović and Marko Rupena. As a group they regularly post to the Kamerades Blog including updates to the Election story, which they present without captions or credits.
So how did this group of photographers come together? Where did you meet?
Jovanovic: Marko Risovic, Milovan Milenkovic and I participated in a photography lecture supported by World Press Photo back in 2009. That was the first time that we showed some of our work to a group of people larger than three. I was swept by Marko [Risovic]’s Legionnaire story for example and one thing led to another. Milovan suggested that we meet and talk about doing “something” for Serbian photography, even if it means taking only baby steps. After two years of meeting in various pubs and places that would be too generous to call restaurants, speaking and inviting over 20 people to join us, this is what came out of it.
Pancic: Milovan Milenkovic and Nemanja Jovanovic initiated the idea that after our work when we have free time, we can meet at the pub and discuss our work. At first point it brought together a large number of photographers, but over the time there were six of us remained and those were the most persistent ones. During this period, which lasted some two years, we have become a collective. It’s started to affect in a positive way to all of us as photographers, but we also became close friends. In the end we decided to launch a website that allowed us to show our work to the public.
What backgrounds as photographers do you have? Freelance, agencies, newspapers?
Jovanovic: Probably every possible background you can think of! In Serbia, you don’t get a paycheck doing and specializing in only one kind of photography.
Risovic: All of the guys in Kamerades collective were working for Media outlets at some point. At the moment few of us are trying to freelance. In Serbia. Can you imagine?
Pancic: Some of us are working in the agencies, some try to be freelancers, and some in the press.
Was there a moment when this group came together and decided that it was time to work collectively? What was it? What gave you guys the idea to work together?
Jovanovic: Yes. The idea was not so clear in the beginning, but it was there all along. From start we were determined to “push each other forward” and to try to do what we like for no other reason. No money, no awards, fame or glory were important, only escaping our everyday routine which included participating in the inevitable decline of journalism, photojournalism and photography in Serbia. The collective came as a logical solution.
Risovic: Being colleagues, working next to each other for years, we were silent witnesses of degradation of photojournalism in Serbia. We realized that sitting and despairing doesn’t lead us anywhere. So, we decided to pursue some action, and besides hanging around, talking and drinking in the pubs, we tried to be constructive. As Nemanja said before, it was a process, but it was clear from the very beginning that we all have common goal.
How did the website come together? What are you hoping to accomplish with the website (that is, to sell work? to share pictures? promoting yourselves, promoting Serbia, just looking bad-ass, etc.)? Where did the design and logo come from?
Jovanovic: It took some time. We are not experienced in that kind of stuff, so we were learning the basics, step by step. We were lucky enough to be 6 people with completely different interests, knowledge, personalities, approach in photography, but we somehow clicked perfectly together, and it resulted in the fact everybody got their part of job. Mostly Sasha who whipped and pissed off rest of us (or, took the piss out of the rest of us), and Milovan who did logo and design details after approximately nine million e-mails and discussions about the same issue. Also, we had a lot of help from friends, like our colleague Darko Stanimirovic who did the website. A lot of people gave different advices, Matt Lutton among them [ed: happy to help guys!], Donald Weber from VII agency and our friends photographers, designers and editors from Serbia and abroad.
Selling our work is every photographer’s job of course, but with this portfolio we mostly seek attention and hope to sell something in the future, maybe to get some assignments that would suit our style/wishes. And looking cool is one of the goals, of course! We are pretty much terrible musicians and we couldn’t be rock stars, so we took cameras. Chicks love it!
Pancic: As I said before, the website has come as a result of our meetings during the past two years. One idea that keeps us together is that we want to show our work to world around us, we believe that as a collective we have a better chance to get more publicity and through joint actions provide us new projects. Logo design came from a smart push by Milovan Milenkovic, multitalented and good looking guy.
Risovic: Basic thing that bothered us from the beginning was the fact that when you simply google documentary photography and Serbia together, you don’t get any of the serious websites with representative work. There are great documentary photographers and photojournalists in Serbia. Believe us! We hope to change this with our website. And to look badass, it goes well with the fame.
Read on »
Donald Weber has a new book of his work in Ukraine and Russia, to be released in Fall 2011 by Schilt Publishing. We asked him to give us a preview of his pictures and book dummies alongside his ideas on publishing and developing projects. As part of the funding for the project Weber is currently selling collector’s editions and a special advanced version of the book via the Interrogations Book website. Weber is a VII Network photographer from Toronto and often teaches workshops, and is hosting on July 21st and 22nd 2011 a workshop on grant writing in Berlin. Dvafoto previously interviewed Weber in December 2008 when he was living in Kiev and in the midst of the photography and travels that would become this book.
Could you introduce the work featured in your new book Interrogations
Following an exploratory trip to Chernobyl in 2005, I soon returned to the abandoned site of the nuclear disaster and spent the next seven 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, this project begins to see the modern State as a primitive and bloody sacrificial rite of unnamed Power.
Interrogations is the result of my personal quest to uncover the hidden meaning of the bloody 20th Century. In dialogue with friend and writer Larry Frolick – whose own ancestors had been decimated in the final months of WW II – I insistently and provocatively address questions both to the living survivors and to the ghosts of the State’s innumerable victims, resurrecting their final hours by taking their point of view, and performing a kind of incantatory meditation over their private encounters with Power.
The policemen, working girls, thugs, dissidents and hustlers who inhabit these pages are all orphans of a secret History; the outlines of our collective fate takes shape in this epic work, expanding our awareness of what it means to be an actor in today’s dark opera.
How did the idea for a book of this work come about? How did it change over time?
Stalin famously said, “I am not concerned with how the court of History will judge our current deeds.” I found this a fascinatingly provocative statement, and one that goes right to the heart of who I am as a photographer. I began seeing my role as that of the court of History, another somebody who could examine the deeds of History and present it to an audience. I am much more concerned with making pictures about something rather than of something. As I delved deeper and deeper into my work, I became inspired by the writers such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Varlam Shalamov and Vasily Grossman, all artists who reveal the incantatory slogans of History and their dark meanings.
So, I started to investigate and examine not just the subject matter I was interested in, but the methods of how best to present that work. I felt these writers to be an inspiration and thus the ideas of the book really began to reveal themselves. I see the role of a photographer not just as a creator of visual narrative, but also a communicator of ideas and people and places and subjects that can be explored much like a novelist explores certain themes. With this in mind, a book was the only obvious way forward.
I cannot say I set out to photograph what I photographed, in fact my original ideas were quite different then what you see in the book. I am an instinctual photographer, I rarely travel with a plan in mind, I prefer moving through a space not just intellectually but through my stomach and my heart. It’s only when I start seeing things, talking to people, getting involved and gaining a little knowledge about the place do the real ideas begin. It’s the same in editing, I lay a bunch of small prints on the floor and I just sit surrounded by them on the floor, the pictures reveal themselves and the places they want to be.
I had a great discussion with Teun van der Heijden, the designer of the book, back in January when we were starting the layout. He wanted the book to be the entire series of Interrogations, as did Maarten Schilt and a few others. I think my ego was a little hurt – I thought, I have spent 6 years in Siberia and Ukraine, wandering in some pretty dark places, and suddenly all this work will never be seen? But then I had a realization that because I spent these six years, these years of frustration and toil and a lot of personal sacrifice, that I could go and make this Interrogations series, that this experience allowed me to get to where I really needed to be. In the end, it’s not totally Interrogations literally, but also a very beautiful “prologue” of the spaces and people that inhabit the interrogation room, the conditions that could foster this type of treatment. I couldn’t be prouder of the direction it has taken.
The title refers, of course, not only to the confrontation of a vast uniformed apparatus and its trembling subjects as a historical set-piece, if not a ritual public ceremony, but, more cogently, to the role of the photographer in the 21st Century as an eye-witness and social critic. The answer, of course, lies in the work itself. The work either satisfies our instinct for truth, or it doesn’t. Fieldwork is the crucible of ambition.
How did you go about getting in to the process of having it published? How did you find a designer and publisher to work with?
I made an initial list (I am an inveterate list maker) of all the publishers I wished to work with. I examined their back lists and looked for books that matched not just the conceptual values of my work, but also the physical values of a book that I admire. From there, I sort of whittled the list down to about seven publishers that I felt would make a good partner. I initially trained as an architect and so I was used to collaboration; in fact one of the things I loathe most about a lot of photography books, is essentially they just become monographs of the photographers greatest images. A book should have plot and character, foreshadowing, knowledge, conflict and redemption, all the ingredients that make up a good story, but also be socially engaged, say something. I always asked myself “What do you want to say?”
Read on »
Mishka Henner has a new project on the Panos Pictures website, made with Google Street View, called No Man’s Land. It purports to be a series of pictures of women who “appear to be soliciting sex”. We knew there were going to be a lot more of these Google-based projects coming, following the controversial World Press Photo award given this year to Michael Wolf. But this one impresses me a lot, though in pushing more boundaries raises a new set of questions.
About his project Henner says,
No Man’s Land explores the margins of our urban and rural European environment as experienced by what appear to be women soliciting sex in liminal, post-industrial and rural settings, captured by Google Street View cameras.
Occupying liminal spaces in post-industrial and rural settings, the focus on these women also casts a critical eye on the Street View project itself and on photography’s indelible link to voyeurism and surveillance.
The Street View project heralds a new age of street-level cartography that offers a vast, regularly updated archive waiting to be mined by documentarians seeking to make sense of our contemporary condition. …
I think the project is terrific, especially in the visuals, and it is interesting to hear how Henner contextualizes the issues of using Google Street View immediately in the introduction to the work. I’m still working through some of the implications of the work, and I’m curious about your reactions. For example, these blurred faces imposed by Google itself… I’m sure there are legal implications for displaying peoples’ likenesses but in this context of possible illegal activity, it adds something else. It draws some parallels, in that fine line of documenting accusations, with Donald Weber’s project Interrogations, and many of the same issues of consent and imposition.
Overall I’m struck by the consistency of this project, photographically and conceptually: 64 images (on Panos’ site) with remarkably similar compositions. An amazing, consistent collaboration between Google’s ‘unseeing eye’ and Henner’s curation. The banality of the scenes is so strongly undermined by the repetition, the ubiquity and the scope of these images across Europe. I’m also struck that it would be nearly impossible for a photographer on his or her own to create such a project. Can we really imagine someone driving around and capturing as many scenes, as consistently, on their own?
Henner is showing me that sexual trafficking (as he implies, or maybe just a phenomenon of women sitting by rural roads) has a particular pattern consuming Europe; I am not accustomed to seeing anything like this with my full eyes nor before in an arts project. That is useful I think. This is perhaps journalism in a new form, it is informing us about something after investigation and we can likely rely upon it. Screw the medium, this is showing us something new in our communities and in an eloquent and democratic manner.
Passing this link to some friends I heard some very interesting, and critical responses. Ranging from the idea that a photographer should really just go out and make their own pictures (ideally, sure, but I think that it is clever to use the mass resources of Google photographing more places in less time than an individual could) to the very serious issue of Henner painting all of these women near the streets as street-walkers. Does he have any evidence to make such an accusation? Is this project interesting only because it is voyeuristic and speculative? I don’t have the answer, and Henner does not really give any firm answers in his own words about the project .. so again, I suppose we’re just asking questions but not coming to any conclusions. Interesting questions, but still troubling.
The title is a quotation from Walter Lippman, who argued that the herd of people saw things and made decisions through stereotypes fixed in their minds, and that the job of elites was to circumvent this “democratic defect” by operating their own channels of fact-based and critically-informed insider information.
It may be that people recently believed things; certainly McLuhan et al. avowedly all believed in the truth – but is the truth/falsity just part of the fading artifacts of a dethroned logical system?
In essence, it’s time we recognize our solipsistic viewpoint of only one way to record and document what we deem “photojournalism.” For far too long we have been held hostage by our own stringent rules, guidelines, methodologies and processes of making and distributing what was supposedly photojournalism. To discount Wolf’s work as anything less then what we all do is a rather fearful and, as quoting Lippman, a “democratic defect” in the pursuit of what really should be an egalitarian form of documentation. We cannot thrust upon the public or ourselves an outline of a “proper way.”
Frankly, I am very much surprised by the vitriolic reaction to this work, if anything this only heightens the exclusive worldview we have been maintaining for far too long as photojournalists. I see this as a freedom to begin looking at photography and journalism not as a source collected by the very few for the very large, but a release to finally allow ourselves to break free from a Victorian-era/Early 20th Century construct and create photojournalism that is reflective of the times it is created in.
Digging around I found this very prescient paragraph: “Lippmann saw the purpose of journalism as ‘intelligence work’. Within this role, journalists are a link between policymakers and the public. A journalist seeks facts from policymakers which he then transmits to citizens who form a public opinion. In this model, the information may be used to hold policymakers accountable to citizens. This theory was spawned by the industrial era and some critics argue the model needs rethinking in post-industrial societies.”
What I also find fascinating about this work, is that Wolf has exposed our roles as photojournalists as essentially creating work based on Pure Chance, a secret we like to keep to ourselves. Again, this plays into the myth of the Photojournalist and the role he plays (yes, He, as what we do is still very dominated from a White, privileged, middle class background; it really is only Us who can afford to roam the world and report other people’s miseries). Are we so upset at the fact it was a series of appropriated images? That these were not images made in a “classical” HCB kind of way? That we now realize that perhaps our role really isn’t that functional anymore? What I see is a lot of panic, when in reality this is a very valid form of journalism. In the end, what is Journalism? To me it’s about looking and seeing, a very pure form of expression, filtered through an analytical mindset, in the end, it’s about “Bearing Witness” (as has been stated time and time again). Why are these photographs by Wolf anything different? Are we truly worried about the way technology plays a role in photo-gathering? Why? What I perceive is Wolf has found a series of events, edited them into a cohesive whole, and presented the results. Not much different from what the rest of us do. If anything, we are now in the early stages of great dissemination of our work, we need to embrace these changes lest we get shunted aside even further. It should never be about the photography, but what that photography says about our contemporary condition – this idea of “Bearing Witness.”
I think of course what else Wolf has managed to do is approach the thorny issues of appropriation, authorship, collaboration, and multiple perspectives in the making of a contemporary story. I believe there should be a deeper concern: what is enough, to generate a meaningful datum in this solipsistic era? What are the limits of self-knowledge and objective description? How far can we go before coherence fragments and fades under the weight of mass observation? Does subjectivity have a future in an accelerated culture? Or are we secretly collaborating in a jittery facsimile of an invented order?
Most importantly, what is the relationship of photography to the unsettling phenomenon of a society veering into this icy state of flux? I sensed from all these responses to the Google Streetview work is our lack of control over our destinies. It reminds me cheesily enough from a line spoken by the narcissistic heroine in the film Beaches played by Bette Midler: “Now what do you think of me?” The photographer has become so entrenched in their own invincibility that we neglect to actually be journalists and photographers and just get on with seeing – and disseminating – what’s out there.
Lastly, I enjoyed this statement from VII’s Stephen Mayes writing on photojournalism in Dispatches Magazine, and feel that his argument is very valid:
“There’s a joke: how many folk singers does it take to change a light bulb? Four: one to change the bulb and three to sing about how good the old one was. Wherever three or more photojournalists gathered together I find this song is sung, but it’s not funny. The “crisis” in photojournalism is not an absence of newsworthy events, nor even the absence of an eager audience, it is the absence of imagination in bridging the two, and we are limited by the constant backward hankering for the way things used to be. People ask who is the new Robert Capa or Eugene Smith? But the question is misguided, and just as so many innovations have been misunderstood because they were defined in terms of what went before, so we are missing the opportunity to make a meaningful step forward in photojournalism because we are hanging onto the old references. How long did it take for people to realize that the automobile could be so much more than a horseless carriage?…”
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.
A couple of months ago my friend Darko Stanimirović in Belgrade mentioned that he was hoping to organize some of his friends in town to create a Serbian street photography collective of sorts. Over the following weeks the groundwork for Belgrade Raw was developed through memorable nights full of Montenegrin wine and impassioned debates. I’m proud to present my friends’ efforts here and invite you to see some awesome work by six Belgrade photographers. I invited Darko to answer a few questions about the project:
What is Raw all about, who is involved, how do you know each other?
Well, one day I realized there are a couple of really good freelance street photographers in Belgrade. I especially admired how they capture those ordinary-extraordinary moments of Belgrade life. And they didn’t really care about using old films or front flash. I liked that rawness, it was way more honest and interesting than any boring touristic picture we can see all around. Not just in tourist guides, but basically everywhere – night-life/news magazines, websites, photo galleries etc. We’re all either Belgrade-born or we’ve been living here for long enough to know it shows nothing about Belgrade, but it’s all anyone can really get. So we’re here to try to change it, to show all those small & big things no one wants to publish, but things that really make this city.
We know each other mostly over some Internet forums and Flickr pools. One night in a park, drinking cheap but fine wine, I proposed this idea of a website that would showcase portfolios of some interesting Belgrade-based street photographers to Luka-Strika, one of our photographers. Over next few nights I designed simple layout and coded it in WordPress. In some three weeks the whole crew was gathered and voila! It’s cool how everything was brought to life really quickly.
Why does the city and photo community need this group?
It’s not just that we as photographers “see” other side of our city. There is a whole community of people who’d love to see something really different and “honest”, without that ugly touristic taste in it. And I’m talking about both people living in Belgrade/Serbia and foreigners. You can learn much more about a city by looking at works of it’s street photographers, than looking at tourist guides or surfing the promo websites. And for the photographers themselves, Belgrade Raw is important because it gives them a context in which to work. It’s always easier to “fill-in” when you have that framework.
What is it about Belgrade that you are focusing on?
It’s hard to tell exactly what we focus on. In a joke, we usually say “that’s something for newspapers, not for Belgrade Raw.” That means we also publish photos which probably wouldn’t be published in traditional sensationalistic media. We like normal, ordinary people, personal stories and interpretations. Someone would think the city is too small for such a “focused” project, but it’s not. In fact, it’s incredible how many big and little stories are still waiting to be covered, while there are so many local newspapers, magazines, TV stations, websites…
Why street photography? Why this manner of photographing Belgrade?
Street photography is a concept that perfectly matches our idea of showing our own, honest view of Belgrade, because it involves photographers who “wander” all around, by day or night, covering everything that seems interesting or important. It’s the opposite of “beautiful sunny day panorama of Belgrade, commissioned by…” Also, street photographers are often freelancers, so you kinda get that true personal view. Speaking of Raw, we don’t care if a photograph was created using a cellphone camera, compact, film or digital. Prime or plastic lens. All we care about is strong personal storytelling. And if you look at the whole “industry” of documentary photography, that’s more or less the direction it takes.
What is next?
We’ve only just begun, but we do have plenty of ideas. Right now, it’s important for us to continue photographing our city, there’s so much more to show. But in the same time, we make plans for print too. We would also love to make some kind of cooperation with other photo-collectives, especially with those in the neighboring countries. There are also plans for guest photographers, so we’re not being limited to “Belgrade-born” or “Serbian” or such. (ed: check out the recap of a workshop with Donald Weber in Belgrade that members of Raw attended, and helped support, for an example of where this project might continue to grow).
And how does this reflect Belgrade/Serbia/Serbs?
For starters, we’re avoiding traditional cliches. But not the other extreme either (“we’re all beautiful, peaceful, awesome people”), so we’re trying to find the right balance. No, we’re not trying actually. We don’t even think about it much, I guess it just comes naturally. But about some other, deeper sync with Serbia/Serbs in general, we’ll have to wait.
The site is still developing and new projects are uploaded every week. One of my personal favorite series, and which sums up the Raw project so well, is “Wind” by Nemanja Knežević. A fresh, personal view of the city that is completely honest, and confounding to much of Serbia’s reputation. Great to see photographers, under their own motivation, creating their own work under their own voice, and finding ways to get it seen on their terms. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this crew when I’m back in Belgrade and maybe producing my own street work from town.
You can, and should, also follow these guys via Belgrade Raw’s Blog, their Flickr Feed, Twitter or become the 521st fan of theirs on Facebook.
With the next interview in our ongoing series we’re talking to photographer Donald Weber who is based in Eastern Europe and is with the VII Network. You should quickly see why he and I have connected, given our overlapping interests with a certain part of the world. Many of the questions I asked, frankly, were bent to my own personal interest in what it means to move halfway around the world to photograph stories you’re personally passionate about. I’m sure some of you can relate. But more importantly to most of you, he is producing interesting and important work much on his own terms and is rising his profile, and has had an interesting life so far. And has interesting things to say about what he is doing.
Amongst many accomplishments Weber has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lange-Taylor Prize and a World Press Photo award. He was a 2006 winner of the Photolucida Critical Mass review which just published his book Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl (which I previously mentioned here). Before becoming a photographer, he worked as an architect with the world-renowned Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. For his full biography have a look at the about page on his website.
What is your background, in interests and academics? Where do you come from?
Well, Canadian, from Toronto, downtown, which may have influenced my outlook. Taking the subway at 12 years old to school everyday definitely gives an impression on a youngster, glad I was able to see what I did. Anyway, my academic background is not so academic, I studied at an alternative high school that offered an intensive arts education, from the age of 16 until graduation in grade 13, I studied art all day everyday. We had four hours of life drawing two days a week – that would be nudes, thus lots of people were jealous of us, plus an 8 hour day of art history and then we would major and minor in two artistic practices. I wanted to be artist, not really sure what that was or how I would do it, but initially that was my goal. I then went on to study at art college, the Ontario College of Art & Design, where I majored in – I forget the complex phrasing of the subject, something like Art and the Environment. Basically, making massive intrusions into the public landscape. Great! But I totally wasted my time, as far as I’m concerned, education is wasted on the young! It was a conflict in my youth of what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it. I loved the idea of creating something, anything, I didn’t care how as long as I could. Then I had this interest in photography, and in particular photojournalism, which went against all the grains of an artistic education that I was brought up on.
So it was an interesting education, for almost 10 years I was schooled in very sophisticated forms of visual education that certainly influences me to this day. The practicalities may have changed, but the essence of being visual are always the same. Line, shape, form, colour, mood, tone, conceptual processes, etc., are all linked at the very core, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have had an education that grounded these roots into my young head.
Tell me about your time with architecture.
Well architecture came about rather haphazardly. in order to understand my time within that field, you have to understand first how I ended up there; it’s a rather convoluted process but one that is inherent as to my position today.
Back to my high schooling. As I stated before, I had an interest in both art and photojournalism. My passion, in my final year, was won out with photojournalism. It was in November of that year before graduation where in Canada we make our applications to post secondary institutions. I wanted to apply to two – Rochester Institute of Technology for PJ, and a smaller college just outside of Toronto for a basic three year photography course. I asked my photography (and I quote verbatim the following conversation):
Me: Robert, which school do you think I should apply to? RIT or Sheridan?
Robert (the teacher): What? Why would you apply to either? You suck as a photographer!
Thus, I literally brought my cameras home and put them in a drawer, not to be touched for about 10 years. It was then I decided to find a different path. I replaced photography with ceramics; my mother was not so pleased. Anyway, while studying at OCAD, I developed an interest in architecture, planning and landscape design and was captured by the writings and designs of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. So, I set my sights on working for him. When I graduated in 1996, I headed overseas to Rotterdam where his practice was based, and promptly got a job, precisely because I was not a trained architect. I worked there for about three years. It was a great experience, but certainly soul crushing. I found architecture to be a rather drab profession and nearly impossible to do anything of interest, save for the exception of Rem Koolhaas and a few others. But I learned about ideas, how to think in a conceptual manner and to find ways to bring those ideas into fruition. It also taught me on more practical levels things about budgeting and planning and just being professional; things I think we take for granted that all go into the realities of being a working photographer.
Anyway, it was not a highlight of my life but I think a necessary step.
What brought you to photography? Was there a specific event that made you say “I am going to be a photographer”?
Yes, very specific event! My whole life has these cascading elements that when all put together certainly illuminate what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I was born in 1973, thus when the events of the late 80′s and early 90′s came around, I was at the ripe age to start taking notice. For me, these were the most historical and important times of my generation. The collapse of communism, the events in Tiananmen Square, the first Iraq War. These were all events that were shaped and played out in magazines and television. I was a teenager and just discovering more than my backyard, it was an awakening physically, mentally, socially, everything, for me. I remember clearly watching hundreds of thousands of Eastern European refugees fleeing their countries for elsewhere, the Wall collapsing, the Ceaucescu’s being executed, Boris Yeltsin on top of a tank. All these events were seared into my mind, and those events shaped what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been aware of news images, but never before did I connect that somebody actually went out there and made those pictures until I was older. It was a massive lightbulb that went off and I wanted to be a part of it.
Anyway, that was event number one. The second event was my diversion to architecture for awhile; I listened to closely what my high school teacher had to say; never again! Anyway, it was while I was living in Europe that I remembered what photography was all about. I wanted to remember living in Europe, so I bought a camera – it was great! I couldn’t put it down, all I did was take photos. Crappy, but they were photos. It was then that I said okay – I’m going to be a photographer – but how was a much more difficult question. It wasn’t until March of 2000, a few days before I was to leave on a year long trip to ride my motorcycle across Africa (something I had previously done in 1998) where the jump was finally made. I had just quit my job as an architect, not really knowing what to do. I was taking the bike out for one last tune up spin when I got hit by a car. I just remember sliding across the hood of some old Chevy, sliding on my back seeing my crumpled bike and thinking, okay, now’s the time to be a photographer. So I never did the bike trip to Africa; I “became” a photographer. That summer I got an internship at the Toronto Sun, a tabloid.
What were your early interests as a photographer? Influences?
I don’t really know, for me it was such a long battle to finally start taking pictures that influences and interests were a secondary thought! But, as a teenager, photojournalism was a very powerful force in me. I remember Kenneth Jarecke’s burned Iraqi soldier from the first Iraq War, Chris Morris’ Panama photos, Don McCullin – it was important because what they were photographing was important – and that was important to me! So I’d say my interests were in the realm that photography could act as a document; the total opposite of my art education. to me art had become superfluous, something dilettantes dabbled in; it had lost it’s meaning. Photography was the opposite. As I grew, my more literal influences was the photographer Raymond Depardon, still is. To me he has managed to encapsulate perfectly what a photographer is and should be. Bridge influences and ideas from all facets and present them in his own manner. That is something I strive to do, to take what I see but also to take what I feel and make my own story of it.
My interests are always morphing; there was a time when I thought Chris Morris could do no wrong (still do). But my art training definitely influenced me in the way I see; not what I see, but how I interpret that. I used to really enjoy the old masters and specifically religious paintings of the 15 – 17 centuries. So much blood, red, white, gold, colour, pain; totally terrified me.
Read on »
Donald Weber, photographer with VII Network and next-in-line DVA interviewee, has just had his first book published: Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl.
The book has come about after his selection in the Photolucida Critical Mass Prize 2006, which grants its winners the publication of a project. The pictures in this book come from over three years of work in the areas surrounding the Chernobyl disaster, and many can be found on his website. I adore the work (all of it, frankly) and covet a copy of the book… Congrats to Don. Show your love and purchase a copy!
One of our next interviews here at DVA will be with Canadian photographer Donald Weber who currently bases himself between Kiev and Moscow. His recent accolades include the PDN 30, a Lange-Taylor Prize, a World Press Photo award and a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work in Russia. Before becoming a photographer, he worked with architect Rem Koolhaas in The Netherlands.
As I promised yesterday, I wanted to open up DVA to more collaboration. What are you interested in hearing Don Weber speak about? He is producing very interesting and increasingly noticed work, both on assignment or of his own design, and has received important and prestigious grants to fund his projects (a struggle you see Scott and I writing about regularly). Post your questions in the comments or if you would like to remain anonymous feel free to email me, and we’ll be sure to use some in our interview. Stay tuned, this should be a good one.