Donald Weber was born in Toronto, Canada. Prior to pursuing photography, Weber trained as an architect and worked with Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Weber is the recipient of many fellowships and awards, most notably a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship. He also received the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize in 2006 for The Human Is an Atom That Won’t Be Split: Resisting History in Ukraine, by Larry Frolick and Donald Weber, which explores how Ukraine’s underclass reveals the secret life of Western globalization. In 2009, Weber was the recipient of the Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography. He won first prize, portrait stories, at the World Press Photo contest in 2012.
Weber is the author of two books. Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl, depicts daily life in a post-atomic world. His latest book, Interrogations, examines authority and power in Russia and Ukraine. His work has appeared in numerous international publications including, the Guardian, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Stern, and Time. Weber’s photography projects have been exhibited in galleries worldwide including at the United Nations, the Portland Museum of Art, the Alice Austen House in New York, and as part of a group show on Afghanistan at the Musée de l’Armée at Les Invalides in Paris. He is a member of the VII Photo Agency.
Interrogations is about a place where justice and mercy and 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, I traveled through Russia and Ukraine photographing the physical and emotional ruins of the unstoppable storm we call 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—I began to see the modern state as a primitive, bloody, and sacrificial rite of unnamed and unchecked power.
This project 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, I was looking to make a very simple photograph of an actual police interrogation, 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 highly-educated defendants stand a chance in such a justice system. It is not designed to give everyone a fair trial. Behind closed doors and outside the view of the public, the feudal system’s trial by ordeal is still very much with us. 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.
—Donald Weber, April 2013