I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Monday, 8 November 2010
Donald Weber's Interrogations
Solzhenitsyn talked about the moment of recognition, he always wondered during his execution what he would look at, would he look up at the sky and look for a bird, or would he look down at the ground, head bowed? It's about a moment of recognition, once that flicker of acceptance occurs, things undoubtedly change. So I was looking for these moments, that passage from knowing what was once will never be again. The process was about a four month struggle to become completely disengaged from all sides - from me as the photographer in the room, from the interrogators to the interrogated. At first I rarely photographed, I discovered the police were actually holding back and behaving themselves; I thought for sure they'd be extra violent. I didn't want to see either of this, but the process itself. I have a very high level of patience, I would just sit there from 9am in the morning to the evening, and just wait. I went days without actually taking pictures. It's a game of chicken, and I always flinch last. In time, the police would just give up on trying to "perform" and just go about their jobs, which allowed me to do mine. It took a few months, but we got it. I saw some very terrible things and was quite disturbed by the whole process, still am, but I believe I am not a judge of their crimes nor of the methods. I am not there to intervene in the process, that would be a betrayal of my years of trust built up with the police. The work formed in this manner because I was not interested in the physical violence, but the psychological violence that we as humans seem to have a special affinity for.
Well watching the methods was not pleasant. Humiliation, violence, degradation. How could you not be repulsed? But the reasons I was there were not for judging them, but was to actually show something very special in the terms of the secrecy of the act. I made a special document precisely because it was about the 'absence of the void,' that it showed humans at their most vulnerable and most cruel. This series could easily be judged along the same lines as a war photographer that constantly gets criticized for not doing anything, for not jumping into the fray. What I saw was a process; we may not enjoy or agree with this process, but it's a process that has a very long history in humanity - confession.
Not at all. In fact the person who is complicit in the interrogations is you, the viewer, and that was the point.