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Donald Weber

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Vaughn Wallace

On Wednesday, the Open Society Foundations will mark their 20th group exhibition of “Moving Walls” at their new location in midtown Manhattan. Initially conceived 15 years ago as a way to highlight the foundation’s issues and to support documentary photography, the exhibition highlights and adds value to important (and often under-reported) social issues.

Initially, the Foundations’ goals were focused on Eastern Europe and Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But now, the Moving Walls exhibition encompasses work from around the globe. This year, the exhibition features the work of 5 photographers from China, Russia and Ukraine to Sierra Leone and the countries of the Arab Spring.

On Revolution Road,” a project by TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev, features work from the uprisings and unrest in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Shot on assignment for TIME, Kozyrev’s work demonstrates both the collective nature of world politics as well as the individual characteristics inherent to each nation’s unique issues. “In the end, the differences between the aftermaths of the region’s revolutions may be more important than their similarities,” he said.

Katharina Hesse‘s project, “Borderland: North Korean Refugees,” tells the individual narratives of North Korean refugees along the Chinese border. Because they’re classified by the Chinese government as ‘economic migrants’, the refugees are ineligible for official UN refugee status. “After experiencing a world like this, it just didn’t feel ‘right’ to take pictures and move on to the next job,” Hesse wrote. She has been shooting the project for nine years.

Juveniles Waiting for Justice” is a project by Fernando Moleres shot in the Pademba Road prison in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There, some 1,300 prisoners languished in squalor, lacking proper hygiene and provisions while awaiting trial. “My Sierra Leone prison photography has been published in the European press,” Moleres said, “but I feel that the story has not exposed a broad audience to this tragedy.”

Ian Teh‘s project, “Traces: Landscapes in Transition on the Yellow River Basin,” explores the existential impact the Yellow River has on the more than 150 million people it directly sustains. “My photographs play with the tension between the Yellow River’s place in Chinese culture and history and China’s emergence as a major economic power,” he said. “By using the landscape, I attempt to show what happens when an area that was largely rural becomes increasingly urban and industrial.”

VII photographer Donald Weber‘s “Interrogations” takes a surreal view on the Russian judicial system. Photographing people inside police interrogation rooms, Weber captures “a place where justice and mercy and hope and despair are manufactured, bought, bartered and sold.” Says Weber: “With each image, I was looking to make a very simple photograph of an actual police interrogation, but also a complex portrait of the relationship between truth and power.”

Moving Walls in on view at the Open Society Foundations at 224 West 57th Street, New York City, from May 8 – December 13, 2013. 

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TIME Photo Department

TIME LightBox presents a new monthly round-up of the best books, exhibitions and ways to experience photography beyond the web—from the Reportage Photography Festival in Sydney and a new Mitch Epstein book to Martin Parr’s ‘Life’s a Beach’ at Aperture in New York and an André Kertész show in London.

‘The Guide’ on LightBox will be published monthly. If you have submissions or suggestions for upcoming round-ups of the best books and exhibitions, feel free to pass them along via email before May 10. We’ll also be updating this gallery throughout the month.

See the previous Guide for April 2013.

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In academic and literary criticism, the verb “to interrogate” is often a neutral term, stripped of its more violent, forceful resonance. But in Donald Weber’s new book, Interrogations, itself an “interrogation” of the way state power plays out across stretches of Eastern Europe, the Canadian photographer seeks to show the brutality and helplessness that undergirds almost all societies.

The images above are scenes from interrogation rooms, the product of seven years of exploring Russia and the Ukraine and befriending and winning the trust of ordinary police officers. They are stark and bleak. Detained suspects sit slumped in empty rooms, their faces stretched in terror, shame and resignation. A teenager under suspicion of shoplifting bursts into tears; when his interrogation goes wrong, a supposed car thief finds himself pinioned to the table, his hands limply warding against a gun pointed down on his skull.

Weber says the scenes are not out of the ordinary. The interrogations are conducted by officers who are “respected in their departments,” he says. “They rose through the ranks and did the job required. What I think is so powerful is that this is not a rogue set of cops. This is standard practice, it is what it is. It’s the utter terror of a wayward bureaucracy.”

On one level, that’s an indictment of the ethical vagaries of policing in post-Soviet countries. But on another, Weber is illustrating—dramatically, to be sure—how state power essentially functions the world over. French philosopher Louis Althusser famously placed the moment we recognize our subservience to the authority of a state in a street scene where one is confronted by a police officer. The officer, writes Althusser, shouts: “‘Hey, you there!’… Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject.”

That subjection—that subjugation—is all too apparent in the suspects Weber photographs. Even in full-fledged, mature democracies, one still feels a kind of nakedness when in the crosshairs of the law, a vulnerability that can only be mitigated after the fact by norms of due process and habeas corpus. Says Weber: “This is work 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.”

That’s a particularly dark interpretation of how power gets wielded and realized, but it’s echoed in public opinion polls throughout the post-Soviet world. Twenty years since the fall of Communism, a significant majority of people in Ukraine and Russia have lost faith in both the promise of free-market capitalism as well as multiparty democracy. This disillusionment with politics has much to do with disgust at what some say are kleptocratic, domineering elites in both countries. But it also indicates a deeper gloominess: the sense perhaps that, whatever the dominant ideology of the day, there’s always the prospect of the interrogation room, and the grim, subterranean power that it holds over of us.

Interrogations was published this month by Schilt Publishing. Weber’s series recently won first place at the World Press Photo awards in the Portraits—Stories category.

Ishaan Tharoor writes for TIME and is editor of Global Spin. You can find him on Twitter at ishaantharoor

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