November 27 – December 20, 2014
Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124
Toronto, ON, M6R 2G5
Reception: Thursday, November 27, 6-9 p.m.
Circuit Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Donald Weber, from his award-winning project Interrogations, seen here for the first time in Canada.
The exhibition features twelve large-format photographs of suspected criminals being subjected to intense interrogation in an unnamed police station somewhere in Ukraine. This powerful series is accompanied by a selection of smaller photographs, which serve as a prologue.
Weber spent seven years traveling throughout Ukraine and Russia in an effort to understand and show something of life in the post-Soviet era. He observed how, since the collapse of Communism and its replacement with free-market Capitalism and an ostensible democracy, people are negotiating their places between ideologies, past and promised, and within “the system”.
Over the course of his research Weber became increasingly preoccupied with the subject of Power as exercised by the modern state, and how it deploys an all-encompassing theatre for its subjects. Amassed, his gritty photographs offer a complex portrait of people and a place, haunted by the past, and disillusioned with the present and its failure to provide a promised future.
Interrogations is the culmination of this seven-year project and a sharp distillation of subject and theme—one that seeks to go beyond the specificity of time, place, and individual, to reveal something more universal about the human situation.
Power is invisible, an abstract concept to which we are all subject. It can only be represented through its effects and consequences, its symbols and subjects (victims and perpetrators). Weber’s photographs from inside the interrogation room are simple stark images offering complex scenes.
Having gained the trust and permission of both the policeman and detainees to take photographs, Weber, as third party witness to the unfolding dramas (including the violent threats, aggression, and intimidation tactics of the policeman) focused his lens on the suspects, the men and women (and youth) who for whatever reason are brought in for questioning and find themselves in the room, subjected to interrogation.
Weber withholds context and specificity. We are not given information as to who they are, or the what, where, or why of their circumstance. Reduced to the confines of the room and to a succinct grammar of gesture and expression, Weber adeptly offers a series of types revealing a range of emotion and reaction: angry, defiant, pleading, ashamed, terrified, scheming, pliant, resigned.
We are unable to adjudicate guilt or innocence here. The implied indictment, it would seem, is not of the people portrayed nor is it limited to former Soviet states, but rather of the very idea of “the system” and the larger abuse of power and authority. The interrogator, rarely seen in the photographs, becomes the embodiment of Power itself in these emblematic dramas played out on the small stage, within the confines of the room.
This is a work which intelligently asks and invites all sorts of interesting and important questions about photography and the photographic situation as much as it does about the interrogations themselves.
The exhibition is curated by Claire Sykes with a catalogue essay by Randy Innes.
Donald Weber is a photographer fascinated by the subject of power (be it economic, political, or psychological) and how it deploys an all-encompassing theatre for its subjects.
His Interrogations project and accompanying book (Schilt, 2011) has received notable recognition and accolades from World Press Photo, PDN, Aperture, and many others. It was preceded by Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl (2008) which won the Photolucida Book Award.
Weber’s numerous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Duke and Duchess of York Photography Prize, and two World Press Photo prizes. Most recently he was shortlisted for the 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award. He is a member of the acclaimed VII Photo agency.