See Donald Weber’s Brutal Ukranian Interrogation Photos in Person in NYC
Donald Weber is one of our favorite photographers. In addition to traveling the world and shooting for every publication that matters and winning a Guggenheim Fellowship and Lange-Taylor documentary prize, he recently put out an amazing photo book, Interrogations (Schilt Publishing, 2011), that documents the psychologically humiliating interrogations of Ukraine’s petty criminals. The crimes of the accused are listed underneath their photos. If you can look at this kind of raw human shame and perverse humiliation without cringing, you’re probably a corrections officer or in the CIA.
In regards to the photos, Donald said, “Without confessions, courts everywhere would grind to a halt in an instant; more than 90 percent of all charges in the Russian and Ukrainian judicial systems end in guilty pleas, and only experienced criminals and highly educated defendants stand a chance. This is what the cops are doing behind their closed doors—the feudal system’s trial by ordeal is still much with us.”
Donald will be having an opening reception for Interrogationstonight at the Foley gallery in New York City, and the photos will be remain on display through the end of May. In anticipation of his big fancy opening, we sat down to talk to him about spending nearly a year hanging out in dirty Ukrainian police stations, watching people get beat up, Sharpied, and pistol-whipped.
VICE: These were all from Ukraine, right?
Donald Weber: Yeah, exactly. It was in 2010 and 2011. I made two separate trips for three or four months each in the winter time.
How did you even know or stumble upon this? Through the police?
My very first trip was in 2005. I met the policeman who ended up becoming my guide into the criminal world. Over the next five years, I got to know him more and more and began to understand the idea of criminality and how it works. That’s basically how I came up with the idea of doing an interrogation. It took me two or three years when I had the idea and then another two years to convince him to let me photograph.
How did you meet him in Ukraine?
It was my very first trip to the Ukraine. I didn’t have much to do and my friend said, “I know a policeman. Why don’t you go meet him?” That night he was going on a raid, and he asked me to come along to see what it was like. From there, I always maintained contact with him. Every time I’d go to the Ukraine, I would see him and go out. For one of my very first projects, he was a key component for introducing me to certain types of people.
What kind of people?
Kind of gangster dudes. Just low-level Mafia guys. Nothing serious.
What did you think of his character?
He is an incredibly conflicted character, I think. In one aspect, I’d hear him talking to criminals in Fenya—the language that criminals speak—and then he would call either his mom, wife, or his daughter and he’d be very goody-goody. He’d say, “Oh hi, Mommy! I love you and miss you so much!” There were these dual characters about him.