Book Review: “Zona” – A Colorful Look into Siberian Prison Camps by Carl De Keyzer, Magnum Photographer

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

(All photographs in the article are copyrighted by Carl De Keyzer / Magnum Photos)

Finding good photography books is tough, but I am excited to share a personal favorite of mine. It is titled: “Zona: Siberian Prison Camps” – by Magnum Photographer Carl De Keyzer. When I first purchased my iPad, I was looking for photography books to download. One of my friends recommended the book to me and after downloading it, I was blown away. The color, composition, context, and storytelling was incredible.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

When I first heard of the book and thought of Siberian Prison camps to myself- I had the same cliched ideas. Of course the photographs would be in black/white and would be of people suffering and miserable. What I didn’t expect was how colorful and vivid the photographs would be.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

For this project, Carl De Keyzer describes first shooting the project. He started off shooting in black and white, but quickly realized that he found the camps more like “Disneyland” than anything else. He then found that color was a much more suitable medium for the project.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Many of the shots in the book show a fascinating juxtaposition between the lives of the prisoners in the camps. On one hand it is awful for anyone to have to be in a prison camp. However, the experience from Carl De Keyzer’s lens does paint it as something much more surreal and colorful. The images remind you of something from a hallucinatory dream than of suffering and pain.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

The way in which Carl De Keyzer shot the photographs was very close, intimate, and got into the lives of his subjects. He wasn’t a casual bystander while taking the images – but you can feel his presence in the scene as many of his subjects look directly at him. However his subjects don’t look at him with suspicion or terror- rather with a calm sort of willingness to participate in the photographs.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

The way that the book is sequenced felt like this to me: It starts off with a peek into the lives of the inmates, starting off as colorful and vivid. Piquing my interest, I decide to explore further and find out more of the strange lives that these inmates live. Half-way through the book, the weather turns darker and colder, yet the photographs have some sort of warmth to them. Another portion he includes toward the end of the book involve photographs of female inmates inside these Siberian Prison Camps.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

The bottom line

If you own an iPad or iPhone, I highly recommend you download a copy in the iTunes store. Although I love paper-bound books, the color really pops out at you from a backlit screen from either of those devices.

If you do not own an iOS device, pick up a copy of the book on Amazon. I haven’t seen the book in person yet, but it is a definite must-have in any photographer’s library.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

The great thing about downloading a copy from the iTunes store is that there are lots of extra features, including photographs that didn’t make the final cut, narration of some of the photographs in the book from Carl De Keyzer himself, as well as black and white images shot by a colleague of his while he was there.

Extra features in iPad

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

More of my favorite images from “Zona”

All below photographs copyrighted by Carl De Keyzer / Magnum Photos.

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

 

 

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Zona Carl De Keyzer Magnum

Carl De Keyzer Bio (via Magnum website)

Carl De Keyzer started his career as a freelance photo-grapher in 1982, while supporting himself as a photography instructor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. 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, who has exhibited 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).

De Keyzer likes to tackle large-scale projects and general themes. A basic premise in much of his work is that, in overpopulated communities everywhere, disaster has already struck and infrastructures are on the verge of collapse. His style is not dependent on isolated images; instead, he prefers an accumulation of images which interact with text (often taken from his own travel diaries). In a series of large tableaux, he has covered India, the collapse of the Soviet Union and – more recently – modern-day power and politics.

-via Magnum Photos

More Books by Carl De Keyzer

  1. Zona: Siberian Prison Camps
  2. Carl De Keyzer: Trinity
  3. Carl De Keyzer: Congo (Belge)
  4. Carl De Keyzer: Moments Before the Flood
  5. Carl De Keyzer:East Of Eden
  6. Carl De Keyzer: Homo Sovieticus

Books for iPad

It can be a pain in the ass to carry around a ton of photo books, so check out these great iPad books (list compiled by Matteo Alvarazi):

  1. Christopher Anderson: Capitolio
  2. Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best
  3. Geoff Dyer: The Ongoing Moment

If you are looking for more photo books to check out, check out my list of 75+ Inspirational Street Photography Books.

Which of Carl De Keyzer’s images are the most memorable to you? Share your thoughts about his work in the comments below! 

10 thoughts on “Book Review: “Zona” – A Colorful Look into Siberian Prison Camps by Carl De Keyzer, Magnum Photographer”

  1. The iPad version only costs you 3,99€ at the moment, definitely a no-brainer! Thanks Eric for this great review! You should more of those because one cannot get across all those great books out there! :-) Keep up your great work, it’s plenty of inspiration for all of us streettogs out there!

  2. Eric, thanks for the heads up on this body of work. I’ve just downloaded the app and the images are superb on so many levels.

    Regards, Ken.

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