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Donald Weber: Interrogations

Donald Weber, Interrogations
Donald Weber, Interrogation X, 2010


Interrogating the Interrogator: Donald Weber’s award-winning photography project Interrogations set for Canadian premiere in new exhibition

Toronto, ON, November 18, 2014Circuit 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.

Interrogations is the third exhibition for Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA, a new presentation partnership where the commercial gallery is sharing exhibition space with the highly respected Prefix ICA in the destination landmark arts building at 401 Richmond Street West in Toronto.

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 and is represented by Circuit Gallery (Toronto).

Randy Innes holds a PhD in Visual and Cultural Studies from the University of Rochester. He has taught at several universities and he contributed to significant developments at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa. His research interests include the history and theory of photography, museum theory and exhibition practice, and aesthetic theory. Randy held the History of Photography research fellowship at the National Gallery of Canada, and he has published research and exhibition essays on historical and contemporary photography, along with other topics. An article on Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin appears in the special issue of the Canadian Art Review (RACAR) dedicated to War and Photography (Fall 2014).

Interrogations runs November 27 through December 20 at Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA, with an opening reception on Thursday, November 27, from 6 – 9 PM.


Donald Weber

November 27 – December 20, 2014

Reception: Thursday, November 27, 6-9 p.m.

Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124
Toronto, ON, M6R 2G5
[ Google Map ]

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Donald Weber, Interrogation II, 2010
Donald Weber, Interrogation II, 2010
Donald Weber, Interrogations, 2010
Donald Weber, Interrogation VIII, 2010

Visit Circuit Gallery for more information and to see more images:

Circuit Gallery specializes in contemporary photography. Established in 2008 by Susana Reisman and Claire Sykes, the Toronto based commercial gallery represents both emerging and established Canadian and international artists.


Phone: 647-477-2487


Donald Weber – 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award Finalist

Donald Weber 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award Finalist
Donald Weber 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award Finalist

Donald Weber was a finalist for the 2014 Scotiabank Photography Award. A huge honour and well deserved recognition. Congratulations Don!

Watch the video of Donald talking about his work.

Canadian Art Critic and Writer Sarah Milroy nominated Donald for the Award.

Donald Weber
Nominator’s Statement

Documentary photography is a calling that entails all the aesthetic discrimination, technical expertise, and sophisticated reading of the world demanded of artists working in the fine art tradition. Added to this, however, is the added pressure of making pictures out in the world, often under conditions of threat. It’s a dance with fate: the operations of chance, of light judged on the fly, the threat of equipment failure, the chance nature of human encounter and connection, the sometimes steep requirements for personal courage, and the need for instinct that can never be quantified or explained — all must be summoned in the moment.

Donald Weber, now 40, is one of Canada’s most compelling practitioners in the field of documentary photography, a tradition too seldom honored in Canadian art. His insightful and piercing images of life in Russia and Eastern Europe have lifted the veil on a part of the world little known and understood in the west, his images powerfully bearing forth the vitality, violence and grim subsistence of a people burdened by the weight of a traumatic history, and stranded in a purgatorial present. Whether photographing the snow swept aftermath of Stalin’s purges, or the now-stilled landscapes of the western Ukraine and Siberia that were once the site of political atrocities, Weber captures the eeriness of a present haunted by the past. As we see in the faces of his urban denizens, gang members, and marauding police, the use of force has become a way of life, grimly accepted by its victims and exalted by its perpetrators.

In a similar vein, Weber has explored the vestigial curse of environmental disaster. In the long shadow of Chernobyl, he pursued connection with the human beings left in the wake of the 1986 explosion, either as survivors of the medical afflictions caused by radiation, or as scavengers reduced to rubbish picking in closed contamination areas. (More recently, he has documented the aftermath of the Fukushima explosion.) The sense prevails of people as subject to historical forces beyond their control, whether he is photographing a child living in the Chernobyl exclusion zone or an Inuk negotiating his abrupt cultural transition into the digital 21st century. Through Weber’s lens, poverty, the forces of oppression and the machinations of power are seen to grind the human subject in their gears.

In this regard, his most recent series of photographs, titled War Sand, serves as a solemn coda. The sands of the Normandy beaches are said to be eight percent shrapnel, metal exploded in combat and then corroded by time and the constant ministrations of the ocean tides. Added to this is its grim corollary: a portion of human remains, bone that has been crushed and crumbled to near powder-like consistency. Through the use of microscopic photography and with a kind of forensic inquisitiveness and existential wondering, Weber brings us close to these fragments, offering us, too, the longer view: the eerie hush of the beachhead and the expressionless features of the sea and sky, edged in grasses. The series invites a contemplation of the endless quiet that lies beyond the flare of bold historical events, offering a cautionary tale of the hubris of humankind.

– Sarah Milroy