This Week In Photography Books – Donald Weber

- - Photo Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

My father reads this column each week. He enjoys it, though he’d probably read even if he found it boring. He’s proud, sure, but he says that he learns things about me and my life that he wouldn’t otherwise know. I suppose that’s a solid, 21st Century definition of irony, as the two of us live in the same town.

He mentioned the other day that he likes the style I’ve slowly adopted. A few paragraphs that initially seem random, or perhaps self-absorbed, then a sexy segue, and finally an actual review of an actual book. My first thought was to burn the house down, if my tropes were so obvious, but he advocated for stability. People, he felt, appreciate the mix of repetition and renewal. Perhaps that’s true.

But I don’t mention my father simply to conduct one more meta-riff on the absurdity of writing about myself and photo-books at the same time. He’s in a tough spot right now, my old man, currently battling the triple-whammy of tooth infection, shredded-knee, and ruined back. He can’t have surgery on the knee until the infection clears, and then needs an operation on his back, but not until the knee heals. He’s gritting his teeth (Sorry, horrible pun,) and dealing the best he can. Not-quite-stoic-suffering runs in the family, a genetic chain back to ever-miserable relatives in the ghettos of Eastern Europe.

Humans, incredibly resilient, have adapted different solutions to the problem of terminal misery. Heaven. Meade. Weed. Video Games. All share the common denominator of distraction. Look at the pretty red cloth, Mr. Bull, and ignore the sword heading right into your neck. Whatever the coping strategy, people keep pro-creating, and suffering persists.

Donald Weber seems to know a thing or two about suffering, and its lack of inherent nobility. People eat shit everywhere, every day, and do the best they can to aid in its digestion. With dignity. When possible. His new book, “Interrogations,” was just released by Schilt Publishing in Amsterdam. Pop it out of its intentionally generic cardboard shell, and its pink cover will surprise you immediately. As does its calender-like vertical orientation. (And its “poor”, or at least “not-slick” publication quality. Proletarian sensibilities and all.)

The photographs inside, along with a truly well-written essay by Larry Frolick, (In the Epilogue) were made in Russia and the Ukraine earlier in the decade. After a slew of establishment photos in the Prologue, bleak snow, junkyard dogs and the like, the main meal consists of a series of photographs of sad, terrified, and forlorn men and women in generic rooms. Given the title, they seem to be reliving or recounting tales of beatings, bitch-slaps and bedlam. One imagines the emotions to be real, regenerated upon reflection. But I suppose it’s never totally explained. Not necessary. Point taken.

I’ve reviewed several books already, and one MOMA exhibition, detailing life in former Iron Curtain. I think I even mentioned, last time, that it seemed to be one seriously ubiquitous subject, of late. No matter. Whether it’s mindless horror movies at the Mega-plex, dramatic dragon paintings in a British Museum (more on that later), or bleakly violent Eastern European photo-books, people will always, always be fascinated by the dark.

Bottom Line: Creatively made, striking publication

To purchase Interrogations visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase. Submissions are not accepted.

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 14 Comments On This Article.

  1. unlike your dad, i don’t always read this column. i did this morning because i think i was hoping to find an explanation for what in the hell is happening to these people. i forgot that i’d rather not know, and make up my own story or dwell in mystery (a better vice than some). and i really like the way you introduce the book. my maladie-d dad also reads every one of my blog posts and connects to me and my work there more than in our long distance phone calls and yearly visits.
    rinse, repeat!

  2. Harrowing, powerful work. These scenes are not recreations or awful tales being recounted as the reviewer implies. These situations are real. The photos depict horrifying interrogations that are happening in-progress while Weber photographs and bears witness.

  3. Here’s more from Weber about this work:

    “About five years ago I witnessed my first interrogation, and was utterly shocked at its violence, not just physically but mentally as well. Solzhenitsyn talks for almost a third of his book The Gulag Archipelago about the nature of interrogation, and the importance of the interrogation not just through Soviet history, but universally. He would think everyday about the moment of his interrogation how he was broken, and everyday about the moment of his execution. So, the seed for this story was planted.”

    http://prisonphotography.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/interrogations-by-donald-weber/

  4. scott Rex Ely

    My first response is to address the power of the gesture.
    Namely the semi-automatic to the bound prisoner’s head.
    This is truly photo napalm. Groin kicking fortune.

  5. Donald is a fantastic guy. Had the pleasure of meeting him last year and the earnest honesty of his work embodies his persona. A delightful HUMAN, with a keen eye for the surreal-reality of life

    • scott Rex Ely

      Oh, a storm is threat’ning
      My very life today
      If I don’t get some shelter
      Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

      War, children, it’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away
      War, children, it’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away

      Ooh, see the fire is sweepin’
      Our very street today
      Burns like a red coal carpet
      Mad bull lost its way

      War, children, it’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away
      War, children, it’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away

      Rape, murder!
      It’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away

      Rape, murder!
      It’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away

      Rape, murder!
      It’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away

      The floods is threat’ning
      My very life today
      Gimme, gimme shelter
      Or I’m gonna fade away

      War, children, it’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away
      It’s just a shot away

      I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away
      It’s just a kiss away
      It’s just a kiss away
      It’s just a kiss away
      It’s just a kiss away
      Kiss away, kiss away
      [ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.

  6. Well written JB, even with the personal musings prior to revelatory insights on the photographic works bound for us to potentially purchase. Thanks.

  7. Does the book not explain that these are in fact actual interrogations taking place?