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Siberian Prison Camps
Carl De Keyzer

March 1 - May 23, 2008
Opening Reception: March 1, 5:00-7:00pm
Lecture with the Artist: March 19, 7:00pm in the Museum Theater

Carl De Keyzer, Zona
Krasnoyarsk, Russia. 2000. Camp 27.

"What I saw was quite surprising... 

I had a very grim idea of these camps...

I had an idea of black and white, dark pictures, torture.  But the camp itself is sort of a Disneyland."

–Carl De Keyzer
(exerpt from the book Zona)

To many Westerners, Siberia remains geographically and culturally distant, a place notorious for the horror of Stalin’s prison camps. Officially disbanded in 1960, the legacy of the Gulag persists and today the camps still house a free labor force of around a million prisoners. Zona is Siberian slang for prison. In a territory as big as Europe, prisoners live in a ‘country’ of its own governed by specific rules and practices. Carl De Keyzer traveled to Siberia in 2002 and photographed some 35 camps, revealing a harsh way of life totally isolated from the rest of the world. The resulting body of work, taken within the constraints of the restricted access he was granted, contains contradictory images such as the positive view of reformed conditions that the prison authorities wish to project, juxtaposed with De Keyzer’s observations of the remaining hardships of camp life. De Keyzer ‘s images, often in startling color, jolt us with their immediacy and offer a rare insight into the lives of those inhabiting these isolated institutions. The images are wrenching. Their truth lies in the contrast between the Disneyland environment and the story written in the inmates’ faces. Confusion, anxiety, sadness, and bewilderment play across their faces.

"In a women’s camp in winter, some women were cleaning the snow in the square and some others were inside playing cards.  I asked “Why are certain women working outside while others can stay in?”  And the chief answered very simply: “Well, the ones who are sweeping snow outside are the ones that killed their husbands.”Zona text

"Beyond the gate was the bright world of freedom where people lived like everyone else.  But to those on this side of the enclosure that world seemed like some unattainable fairyland.  Here was our own world, unlike anything else; here were our own laws, our own dress, our own manners and customs, here was the house of the living dead, a life like none other upon earth, and people who were special, set apart.  It is this special corner that I am setting out to describe."  –Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

Carl De Keyzer Belgian, b. 1958. One of a generation of reporters to have emerged in the late 1980s, Carl De Keyzer likes to tackle large scale projects and general themes. He often starts from the premise that disaster has already struck and that infrastructures everywhere are on the verge of collapse in overpopulated communities. De Keyzer started his career as a freelance photographer in 1982 while supporting himself as an instructor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent (1982-89). At the same time, his interest in the work of other photographers led him to co-found and co-direct the XYZ Photography Gallery. A Magnum nominee in 1990, he became a full member in 1994. De Keyzer’s style is not dependent on isolated pictures but, like that of a 19th-century explorer armed with modern means, relies on accumulation and interdependence with text, often taken from his own travel diaries. His gift to pick out the kind of societies and situations that are both symptomatic and of wide interest to the public. India, the collapse of the USSR and more recently, power and politics in the contemporary world are treated in a series of large-scale tableaux. De Keyzer, who has been exhibiting his work regularly in European galleries, is the recipient of a large number of awards including the Book Award from the Arles Festival, the W. Eugene Smith Award (1990) and the Kodak Award (1992). (synopsis and artist biography courtesy of Magnum Photos.)

About the Prints: All images in the exhibition are archival pigment prints.

Zona Image copyright Carl De Keyzer Image copyright Carl De Keyzer
Novobirusinsk, Russia. 2001. Camp 12.
Kansk, Russia. 2001. Youth Camp.
Novobirusinsk, Russia. 2001. Camp 12.
Installation Images: 
Carl De Keyzer, Zona Exhibition Installation Image Carl De Keyzer, Zona Exhibition Installation Image Carl De Keyzer, Zona Exhibition Installation Image



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