Donald Weber is a prize-winning photographer. His pictures of Jack Layton, Randy Bachman, and Don Cherry have appeared in Maclean’s and other places. He has recorded post-atomic society at Chernobyl and Fukushima and criminal life in Russia. His most recent portfolio is of police interrogations in the Ukraine:
Weber began photographing in Ukraine in 2004. It took him some time to be accepted by the police: “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.” Once accepted by the police, Weber had to get the subject’s permission. Many refused, so it took years to complete the project.
Documenting police work is far easier in a police state—an ex–police state, I suppose one should say—than it is in Canada. Here, the police interrogate suspects well out of public view and hide behind the bureaucratic screen of liberal democracy—the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Privacy Act as well as other confidentiality laws and so on—but still employ the techniques of intimidation, threats and mounting degrees of physical force to pry inculpatory statements from their subjects. The four months it took to complete this set of pictures involved a complete personal surrender of will. Every day was a fight between what I envisioned and what others involved deemed morally acceptable, even if it was repugnant to me. It was a clash of cultures, with my very quaint Enlightenment ideas clashing with the interrogators’ very serious ideas about confession.
I remember first being shocked at some of the methods, but my [local fixer] friend said to me, “Don, you must understand that these are their methods of policing, this is how they’re taught.” He then told me a horrifying story of his own arrest and subsequent interrogation while working in St. Petersburg almost 20 years earlier; this helped me understand the cultural and democratic differences in methods of policing.
The police I worked with were respected in their departments; they rose through the ranks and did the job required. I have my personal feelings of how and what they do, but then as a photographer I think I’ve said enough about that with my work.
There is a difference between specific situations and more general or universal conditions. This work is not about Ukraine or Russia or even the former Soviet Union, but instead a way to see the modern State as a primitive and sacrificial rite of unnamed Power.
Weber’s portfolio is covered in the same pink wallpaper that is a backdrop to the interrogation scenes. Weber interview here.