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The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia

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The Commissar Vanishes offers a chilling look at how one man - Joseph Stalin - manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and to erase memories off his victims. On Stalin's orders, purged rivals were airbrushed from group portraits, and crowd scenes were altered to depict even greater legions of the faithful. In one famous image, several Par The Commissar Vanishes offers a chilling look at how one man - Joseph Stalin - manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and to erase memories off his victims. On Stalin's orders, purged rivals were airbrushed from group portraits, and crowd scenes were altered to depict even greater legions of the faithful. In one famous image, several Party members disappeared from an official photograph, to be replaced by a sylvan glade. For the past three decades, author and photohistorian David King has assembled the world's largest archive of photographs, posters, and paintings from the Soviet era. His collection has grown to more than a quarter of a million images, the best of which have been selected for The Commissar Vanishes. The efforts of the Kremlin airbrushers were often unintentionally hilarious. A 1919 photograph showing a large crowd of Bolsheviks clustered around Lenin, for example, became, with the aid of the retoucher, an intimate portrait of Lenin and Stalin sitting alone, and then, in a later version, of Stalin by himself. The Commissar Vanishes is nothing less than the history of the Soviet Union, as retold through falsified images, many of them published here for the first time outside Russia. In each case, the juxtaposition of the original and the doctored images yields a terrifying - and often tragically funny - insight into one of the darkest chapters of modern history.


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The Commissar Vanishes offers a chilling look at how one man - Joseph Stalin - manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and to erase memories off his victims. On Stalin's orders, purged rivals were airbrushed from group portraits, and crowd scenes were altered to depict even greater legions of the faithful. In one famous image, several Par The Commissar Vanishes offers a chilling look at how one man - Joseph Stalin - manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and to erase memories off his victims. On Stalin's orders, purged rivals were airbrushed from group portraits, and crowd scenes were altered to depict even greater legions of the faithful. In one famous image, several Party members disappeared from an official photograph, to be replaced by a sylvan glade. For the past three decades, author and photohistorian David King has assembled the world's largest archive of photographs, posters, and paintings from the Soviet era. His collection has grown to more than a quarter of a million images, the best of which have been selected for The Commissar Vanishes. The efforts of the Kremlin airbrushers were often unintentionally hilarious. A 1919 photograph showing a large crowd of Bolsheviks clustered around Lenin, for example, became, with the aid of the retoucher, an intimate portrait of Lenin and Stalin sitting alone, and then, in a later version, of Stalin by himself. The Commissar Vanishes is nothing less than the history of the Soviet Union, as retold through falsified images, many of them published here for the first time outside Russia. In each case, the juxtaposition of the original and the doctored images yields a terrifying - and often tragically funny - insight into one of the darkest chapters of modern history.

30 review for The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia

  1. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    --The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia Acknowledgements Index --The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia Acknowledgements Index

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    THE COMMISSAR VANISHES: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia by David King / 1997 by Metropolitan/Henry Holt and Co. India ink blots over faces and bodies. Airbrushing out. Painting and scribbling over. Scalpels and tears. Defacements of a photograph and erasure of a life. A consciousness. A history. "Photographs for publication were retouched and restructured with airbrush and scalpel to make famous personalities vanish. Paintings, too, were withdrawn from museums and art g THE COMMISSAR VANISHES: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia by David King / 1997 by Metropolitan/Henry Holt and Co. India ink blots over faces and bodies. Airbrushing out. Painting and scribbling over. Scalpels and tears. Defacements of a photograph and erasure of a life. A consciousness. A history. "Photographs for publication were retouched and restructured with airbrush and scalpel to make famous personalities vanish. Paintings, too, were withdrawn from museums and art galleries so the compromising faces could be blocked out of portraits." The books title refers specifically to the erasure of 'Commissar' Leon Trotsky, who alongside Vladimir Lenin lead the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. He infamously clashed with Joseph Stalin and was exiled and later assassinated in Mexico. Stalin campaigned to erase all images and mentions of Trotsky. Of course, Trotsky wasn't the only one erased. Faces and names of many citizens were expunged from the records for any number of perceived infractions, and the actual people were sent to gulags, or executed outright. Even owning a book that had not been properly censored could land the owner in the gulag. David King, a British historian and graphic designer, began collecting these censored photographs and artworks, and seeking out any publications that may have missed the knife or the brush. He amassed the large collection that makes up this book. He also details the 'cult of Stalin' and the use of visual propoganda in the Stalin Era. The book is primarily a visual resource, but includes a good preface and introduction, detailed captions, and a bibliography with many historical notes. A fascinating, devastating, and chilling reading experience. King speaks of censor agents (usually unassuming elderly women) going to libraries and book stores to ensure that each new erasure was followed. They'd bring a bin with them, removing books, and inking or scalpeling out faces in photographs. Books were removed and destroyed directly, or locked into a Soviet archive, deemed not suitable for the public. For anyone who owned books in their own home, they were also expected to comply and blot or deface. Unfortunately, this also went for family photographs - faces and looking bodies removed from time and memory. I learned of this book many years ago in a history class, and later was reminded in library school courses. Anthony Marra's novel, The Tsar of Love and Techno, includes a storyline of a character who retouched and repaints photographs and art in Stalin's Russia. The final nudge to go ahead and read it in entirety came after reading Tatyana Tolstaya's review of it in her outstanding Pushkin's Children: Writing on Russia and Russians collection that I read for #witmonth in August. Highly recommend both Marra and Tolstaya! "Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." -George Orwell

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    There quite simply is no other book like this.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    Watch as the great "magician" Stalin makes commissars disappear. Truly one of the most chilling books I have read recently. Watch as the great "magician" Stalin makes commissars disappear. Truly one of the most chilling books I have read recently.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    David King (who died last week) was a relentless documentarian of the Stalin School of Historical Falsification. With his bold designs and his passion to tell the truth about the Russian Revolution and Leon Trotsky, he did the world a great service in the battle against the continuing lies and propaganda of the capitalist press about Russian history and socialism in general. Along with his books, Ordinary Citizens (a book of photographs of innocent people about to be killed during Stalin's purge David King (who died last week) was a relentless documentarian of the Stalin School of Historical Falsification. With his bold designs and his passion to tell the truth about the Russian Revolution and Leon Trotsky, he did the world a great service in the battle against the continuing lies and propaganda of the capitalist press about Russian history and socialism in general. Along with his books, Ordinary Citizens (a book of photographs of innocent people about to be killed during Stalin's purges) and his monumental "Red Star over Russia" (a pictorial history and commentary on the USSR from the Revolution to the death of Stalin), he presents the results of decades of research in archives and private libraries all over the world, particularly for material about Trotsky (who was effectively erased from Soviet history by the Stalinists). There is an entire room at the Tate Modern museum in London dedicated to just a fraction of the material collected by David King over the years. This book and the others is a treasure trove. I cannot recommend it too highly. A masterwork.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I know I'm not the only one reading this book who is old enough to remember a time when the photos we saw in publication were not Photoshopped, when conventional wisdom was that people lied, but photos did not. How naive we were. This book is proof that manipulating people through manipulated photos is nothing new, and neither is the kind of personal branding we see in the age of social media. Stalin and Lenin were masters of creating their own brand and writing their own story, and they were do I know I'm not the only one reading this book who is old enough to remember a time when the photos we saw in publication were not Photoshopped, when conventional wisdom was that people lied, but photos did not. How naive we were. This book is proof that manipulating people through manipulated photos is nothing new, and neither is the kind of personal branding we see in the age of social media. Stalin and Lenin were masters of creating their own brand and writing their own story, and they were doing it nearly a century before anyone had heard of Facebook. Unfortunately, they weren't just retouching photos to remove a few wrinkles, smallpox scars, or extra pounds - they were using it to wipe people who fell out of favor out of history. Absolutely chilling.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bobby

    This is more like a coffee table book so I feel that I can claim having read it without having specifically passed my eyes over each and every word. Great pictures and interesting history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Plethora

    This book was filled with images, some just showing the defacing that happened during Stalin's reign to blot out individual that now had become enemies of the people. Other images showed the original unaltered state and the authorized officially published versions with people removed and even times when people have been moved to accommodate the need. Some alterations are crude, a simple ink blot over a person, others you have to hand it to the artist hired to airbrush and alter history, the phot This book was filled with images, some just showing the defacing that happened during Stalin's reign to blot out individual that now had become enemies of the people. Other images showed the original unaltered state and the authorized officially published versions with people removed and even times when people have been moved to accommodate the need. Some alterations are crude, a simple ink blot over a person, others you have to hand it to the artist hired to airbrush and alter history, the photos showed little signs of being doctored. The works are accompanied by descriptions of the people shown, their fate, which in most cases was an untimely death, and/or a description of the political significance behind the image. It was a crime to possess a picture of a person that had fallen out of favor, you were required to destroy the offensive work (book), remove the page(s) or ink blot out the person, including their name. Unfortunately, during this period a number of rare manuscripts ceased being in existence. It wasn't until the late 1980's when travel restrictions eased and a flood of things made their way west, even though it was still illegal to export items outside of Russia without permission. You won't necessarily get a history lesson out of the text in this book to fill in your knowledge of Stalin and his use of Lenin, but you will still glean some knowledge and the pictures are certainly worth looking at and observing the painstaking time that went into eradicating someone from history, to murder them wasn't simply enough, all references had to be removed from the official books/records as well. 1984 anyone?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    King's fascinating partial collection of doctored propaganda photos testifies to Stalin's, and his accomplices', terror. The author's effort took years and years. I'm grateful to him for his wherewithal and determination. When the time is right, I hope he bequeaths his entire collection to a museum or library I can get to someday. I got to see monuments to communism in freshly liberated Europe in the early 1990s. The artifice, fear, lies and pomposity required to keep themselves in power was just King's fascinating partial collection of doctored propaganda photos testifies to Stalin's, and his accomplices', terror. The author's effort took years and years. I'm grateful to him for his wherewithal and determination. When the time is right, I hope he bequeaths his entire collection to a museum or library I can get to someday. I got to see monuments to communism in freshly liberated Europe in the early 1990s. The artifice, fear, lies and pomposity required to keep themselves in power was just too much. Such a waste. It really is a pity I.V. Dzhugashvili didn't become a priest.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    A remarkable and deeply disturbing book documenting the systematic removal of Stalin's perceived enemies. Not just by being executed, but their removal from history. The removal from photographs and documents and portraits in an effort to erase them entirely. Perhaps most disturbing and poignant is not so much where people have been airbrushed out, often laughably badly, but those physically scrubbed from books for fear of being caught with an illegal image. This level of paranoia in a leader of A remarkable and deeply disturbing book documenting the systematic removal of Stalin's perceived enemies. Not just by being executed, but their removal from history. The removal from photographs and documents and portraits in an effort to erase them entirely. Perhaps most disturbing and poignant is not so much where people have been airbrushed out, often laughably badly, but those physically scrubbed from books for fear of being caught with an illegal image. This level of paranoia in a leader of simultaneously astonishing and terrifying,and can also be seen in certain contemporary leaders.

  11. 5 out of 5

    C

    The Commissar Vanishes, by David King, is a remarkable and remarkably chilling look at life in Russia during the years right after the revolution of 1917 and up through the 1950s and even some aspects that lingered into the 1980s. As the author explains “So much falsification took place during the Stalin years that it is possible to tell the story of the Soviet era through retouched photographs. That is the purpose of this book.” The book is all the more remarkable because its main reason for exi The Commissar Vanishes, by David King, is a remarkable and remarkably chilling look at life in Russia during the years right after the revolution of 1917 and up through the 1950s and even some aspects that lingered into the 1980s. As the author explains “So much falsification took place during the Stalin years that it is possible to tell the story of the Soviet era through retouched photographs. That is the purpose of this book.” The book is all the more remarkable because its main reason for existence is a decision made by the author, David King, in 1970. As King explains in the Introduction, he was looking through publicly available photos in the photographic archives in Moscow when he realized there was no entry or information or photographs of any type for Leon Trotsky, who had been a very important part of the revolution. King writes “They had completely wiped him out. It was at this moment that I determined to start my collection.” The rest of the book is photos and artwork from various sources, including King’s own personal collection. Some of them had never been published before this book, and one photo from 1922 even had “Not to be reproduced” along with “Supreme Soviet of the USSR” stamped on the back of the original. There is a lot of history in The Commissar Vanishes, and also a lot about human nature. I’ve read in other places that revolutions tend to become cannibalistic as the revolutionaries turn on each other. The Commissar Vanishes is a testament to that. There are multiple group photos where King quietly notes in the side text how many people in those photos died violent deaths at the hands of people who were supposedly their fellow revolutionaries and countrymen. Revolutions can also be co-opted, which is part of what happened as Stalin rose up the party ranks. Many other government and party officials disagreed with Stalin’s plans and policies, and they were all eliminated: liquidated, exiled, shot, or just disappeared. Even Lenin, who after 1922 was debilitated by a series of strokes, was unhappy about how much power Stalin was accumulating and tried to distance himself from Stalin. Stalin worked around that too. Lenin was shipped off to Gorki to convalesce and finally pass away, while Stalin set an army of propagandists busy creating pictures and paintings showing Stalin as Lenin’s right-hand man. One of the darkly amusing stories in the book is the funeral of Dzerzhinsky in 1926. Trotsky had given a speech that Stalin and others were abandoning revolutionary politics and Dzerzhinsky, the head of the secret police and supporter of Stalin, stepped up and screamed at Trotsky for two hours, then promptly had a heart attack and was dead that same day. (Trotsky was later exiled from the USSR in 1929 for being a counterrevolutionary and the book contains a copy of Trotsky’s own personal copy of the expulsion order.) Another thing about human nature to be learned from this book is how vicious people can be when they feel their position is not secure. Stalin didn’t feel secure as he didn’t have any important roles in the 1917 revolution or the civil war afterward. So once Stalin did get to the position of General Secretary of the party in 1922, he very aggressively eliminated any known enemies or opponents, and any possible enemies or opponents, and anyone who spent much time with any known or possible enemies or opponents. Since everyone around Stalin was also uncertain when Stalin would turn on them, the uncertainty and insecurity and viciousness went all the way down the chain of government and security forces and police and secret police to the citizens. Many of the pictures have people or people’s faces blacked out or cut out, or people who were in original copies are airbrushed out or cropped out in later versions, as those people fell out of favor. It wasn’t just government photos where people were erased from the visual record; regular citizens even defaced their own books and personal photos as someone was denounced and everyone who had ever been associated with that person had to erase all evidence of that association lest suspicion fall on them too. This includes Rodchenko, a loyal and very talented Russian photographer and artist who provided much of the material and photos and design of the book Ten Years of Uzbekistan. In 1937, three years after the book was published, Stalin purged much of the Uzbekistan leadership and Rodchenko defaced, inked over, and cut out all the faces of those purged in his own personal copy of the book. In 1984 King visited Rodchenko’s descendants, who still lived in the same apartment as Rodchenko had, and Ten Years of Uzbekistan was still there, still defaced. I could go on for several more pages about all the history and tragedy and treachery in this book. I’ll instead recommend it to anyone who is interested in history, art, or current events (while King doesn’t spend a lot of detail on it, there were more countries than just Russia who were terrorized by Stalin, and memories of those times are still parts of world events today). My only complaint is that there is no Table of Contents. As a Table of Contents for anyone interested in the book, I'm including a general list of titles and dates of original photos or artwork from the entries in the book (many of the photos are shown in multiple versions as they are edited and cropped and retouched and airbrushed and used as models for paintings and sculptures as the years go by): Page 7 - Preface by Stephen F. Cohen Page 9 - Introduction, “Heavy Soviet Losses”. A discussion of some of the methods of censorship in Soviet Russia. Page 16 - “The Conspirators”, 1897. Page 18 - “A Ghostly Pillar”, 1908. Page 22 - “Summer in Siberia”, 1915. Page 26 - “The Bourgeois Revolution”, 1917. Page 26 - “Lenin in Disguise”, 1917. Page 28 - “A Gray Blur”, 1917. Page 32 - “Problems of Propaganda”, 1905 and 1917. Page 34 - “Extraordinary Commission”, 1917. Page 36 - “Terrible Retribution”, 1918. Page 38 - “Is It a Plane?”, November 1918. Page 40 - “Lenin’s Mad Dog”, 1918. Page 41 - “Gross Vilification”, 1920 Page 42 - “Lenin’s Holy Status”, 1918. Page 44 - “Old Bolsheviks”, 1919. The only photo in the book which shows Lenin and Stalin side-by-side in an actual real-life setting (a photo from Gorki in 1922 is almost certainly faked). Page 45 - “The Commissar Vanishes”, 1919. Page 50 - “Ghost Train”. Page 52 - “Chapayev: The Legend Continues”, 1919. Page 56 - “Civil War Heroes”. Page 58 - “Trouble in the Caucasus”, 1920. Page 60 - “Band of Stereotypes”, 1920. Page 62 - “Practically Extinct”, 1920. Page 64 - “The Inflatable Log”, 1920. Page 66 - “One Step Forward, Five Steps Back”, 1920. Very iconic portraits of Lenin addressing troops in front of the Bolshoi Theater, on a wooden podium, on May 5, 1920. Trotsky is evident in many of photos, Stalin is in none. Page 74 - “Close to Lenin”, 1920. Page 76 - “Absent”, 1920. Page 78 - “Crowd Control”, 1920. Page 80 - “Planning the World Revolution”, 1920. Page 82 - “The Children of Kashino”, 1920. Page 83 - “Enemy of the People”, 1922. Stalin is promoted to General Secretary. Which didn’t mean as much at the time as it would later, “While Lenin was around, there was only one leader.” Page 84 - “The Stalin School of Petrification”, 1922. Page 88 - “Basic Rules of Photography”, 1922. Page 90 - “Not to Be Reproduced”, 1922. Page 92 - “The Prophet Portrayed”, 1923. Page 94 and 95 - “Relic Status” and “Lenin Levy”, 1924. Lenin passes away, and his secular deification by Stalin begins. Page 96 - “The Canonization of Lenin”, 1924. Page 98 - “Hollywood, USSR”, 1924. Page 100 - “Long Term Friendships”, 1925. Page 102 - “Solemn Occasion”, 1926. Page 104 - “Four, Tree, Two, One . . .”, 1926. Page 108 - “A Savage Attack on the Working Class”, 1927. Page 110 - “Cruel Moscow”, 1924, mid 1920s. Page 112 - “OGPU”, 1929. Page 113 - “GPU”, 1930. Page 114 - “The Boss”, 1930. Collectivization has begun. King’s text mentions “Liquidate the Kulaks as a Class” was one of the slogans of the collectivization. Page 116 - “Older and Wiser”, 1933 montage of photos taken in the 1870s. Page 118 - “Soviet Citizens”, 1934, 1935. Page 120 - “Murderers”, 1934. Page 120 - “Assassins”, 1934. Page 122 - “Architectural Retouching”, 1917, 1976, 1984. Page 124 - “Warm Welcome in Red Square”, 1934. Page 126 - “Ten Years of Uzbekistan”, 1934. Page 134 - “Stalin’s Old Friend”, 1934. Taken at the Seventeenth Party Congress. “There had been 1,961 delegates at this congress. No fewer than 1,108 of them were later liquidated.” Page 135 - “The Executives’ Exit”, 1935. Page 136 - “Soviet Tailoring in the 1930s.”, 1934. Page 138 - “Denounced by a Jealous Designer”, 1930s. Page 144 - “Shockworker’s Sarcophagus”, 1935. Page 146 - “Look for an Enemy!”, 1935. People were trained to look for “Saboteurs” and “Wreckers” to blame for any mistakes or malfunctions or accidents in factories. Mass executions often followed. Page 148 - “Workers of the World, Unite!”, 1935, 1937. Page 152 - “Unforgettable Moment”, 1936. Page 154 - “Higher and Higher”, 1934, 1936. Page 156 - “A Swift Exit”, 1933. Page 158 - “Process of Elimination”, 1937. Page 160 - “En Garde”, 1937, 1938. Page 162 - “Drowned in Blood”, 1938. Page 164 - “Jealousy and Revenge”, 1939, 1940. Page 165 - “Earth in Turmoil”, 1923, 1939, 1940. Page 166 - “Born Again”, 1939. Page 168 - “Stalin’s Signature”, 1939, 1940. Page 170 - “Victory!”, 1945. Page 172 - “Missing from Potsdam”, 1945. Page 174 - “Red Star Over the Kremlin”, late 1940s, 1951. Page 178 - “Death is Not the End”, 1953. Page 180 - “Blubbery Henchman”, 1953. Page 182 - “Ghostwriter”, 1956. Page 184 - “The Losing Finalists”, 1956. Page 188 - “Full Circle”, 1947, 1962. A painting from 1947 showing Stalin, Dzerzhinsky and Sverdlov being much closer to Lenin and much more important than they actually were, is revised under pressure from Khrushchev to remove Stalin and his associates. Page 190 - Acknowledgments, Bibliography, Index Page 192 - 1944. NKVD officer’s identification card.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This book was a really fascinating look into how people were erased, obliterated, or defaced in the artistic and photographic records of the Soviet Union during the times of Stalin. In many ways, this book brought the reality and scale of the purges and political violence more than any thing else. I have not read much about this period, so that is partially a reason why. Either way, it really embodied the apocryphal Stalin quote of "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a s This book was a really fascinating look into how people were erased, obliterated, or defaced in the artistic and photographic records of the Soviet Union during the times of Stalin. In many ways, this book brought the reality and scale of the purges and political violence more than any thing else. I have not read much about this period, so that is partially a reason why. Either way, it really embodied the apocryphal Stalin quote of "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." The author did extensive research finding both the edited works where people are expunged and the originals to see who was erased. He occasionally makes rather snarky asides about some of the art work, which I found a bit odd. Our tastes in art do not align too much, but this was not too unwelcome. I have a fascination with some of the prints and the socialist realism style in general, such as Revolution on Paper: Mexican Prints 1910-1960, that may only be possible from the distant perspective of time, place, and not truly understanding the horrors that the art work attempted to gloss over. Reading this, I could not help but think of 1984 and how people became unpersons, and it seems obvious how familiar George Orwell was with the Soviet modus operandi. I believe this book came to my attention after reading The Tsar of Love and Techno which starts with a beautiful story, "The Leopard," about an artist who erases people out of history. Either The Commissar Vanishes was mentioned in the acknowledgements of the book, or it got me curious to see what the library had, but that is how I encountered this title, and I am glad I did. I finally tackled The Commissar Vanishes since it also works so well with the movie The Death of Stalin.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Excellent book. After Stalin muscled his way to the to of the Soviet hierarchy, he of course then started muscling Trotsky and his allies aside. Later, he threw away people he had once used, of course. As part of this, Soviet PR flunkies began "disappearing" people from official photographs. People like commissars of people's affairs, etc. Hence, the title of the book. On the flip side, a subtitle could be "Stalin appears." For various reasons, he was not at a lot of early Revolutionary events in 191 Excellent book. After Stalin muscled his way to the to of the Soviet hierarchy, he of course then started muscling Trotsky and his allies aside. Later, he threw away people he had once used, of course. As part of this, Soviet PR flunkies began "disappearing" people from official photographs. People like commissars of people's affairs, etc. Hence, the title of the book. On the flip side, a subtitle could be "Stalin appears." For various reasons, he was not at a lot of early Revolutionary events in 1917-18. So, same flunkies started cutting him in. King has "before" and "after" documentary evidence in both cases. In some cases, this pre-Photoshop photoshopping was easy. In some semi-hard cases, it was done crudely. In others, it was done quite skillfully. As a newspaper editor and nature photographer, while decrying the playing with history, I have to salute the skill.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Harvey

    - Thirty years in the making, David King's book is the product of an immense, one-man, archaeology. Joseph Stalin's censorship of photography was nothing less than the attempted falsification of history itself. Spanning the three defining chapters of his ruthless leadership of Russia (1929 to 1953): 1) his merciless "collectivisation" war against the peasantry (millions died); 2) his murderous police terror against Communist officials (and ordinary citizens) and; 3) his catastrophic political/mi - Thirty years in the making, David King's book is the product of an immense, one-man, archaeology. Joseph Stalin's censorship of photography was nothing less than the attempted falsification of history itself. Spanning the three defining chapters of his ruthless leadership of Russia (1929 to 1953): 1) his merciless "collectivisation" war against the peasantry (millions died); 2) his murderous police terror against Communist officials (and ordinary citizens) and; 3) his catastrophic political/military maleficence before and after the German invasion of 1941 - nothing of significance could be published that failed to glorify every aspect of Stalin's leadership. Stalin's political opponents were obliterated from all forms of political existence as photographs were "retouched and restructured with airbrush and scalpel to make famous personalities vanish. This book contains some of the most interesting altered images (before/after) from King's immense collection (of over 250,000 images!), complete with background explanations of who was removed and why. - very interesting - I really enjoyed it

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    This is a creepily visceral historical record. King has obtained many photographs and artworks from Stalinist Russia, and uses them to demonstrate how the historical record was changed -- often systematically -- to support the increasingly oppressive Communist regime. In many cases, he has managed to locate original photographs and their altered counterparts, to demonstrate how those who fell out of political favor were edited out of photographs and out of history. Perhaps most spooky are the pi This is a creepily visceral historical record. King has obtained many photographs and artworks from Stalinist Russia, and uses them to demonstrate how the historical record was changed -- often systematically -- to support the increasingly oppressive Communist regime. In many cases, he has managed to locate original photographs and their altered counterparts, to demonstrate how those who fell out of political favor were edited out of photographs and out of history. Perhaps most spooky are the pictures from books and photo albums that belonged to individuals, where people's faces are crudely blacked or cut out; often, to even own an undefaced photograph of an "enemy of the state" was enough to be considered an enemy as well. The artwork is also fascinating, as King calls a lot of attention to the propagandizing and the use of art to insert figures like Stalin into historical events that they were not actually present for. I did find myself wishing for more context at times, but this is mainly due to my own ignorance about much of the history of the Soviet Union.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Noëlibrarian

    A haunting collection of photographs and paintings, most from between 1905-1953, that detail the literal obliteration of Stalin's political opponents and perceived enemies of the Communist Party. Stalin, wishing to take on the mantle (and halo) of his predecessor, Lenin, mounted a two-pronged media campaign: he had photographs and paintings doctored to make it look as though he was closer to Lenin than he actually was (Lenin grew increasingly worried about Stalin's aggressive power grabs, but wa A haunting collection of photographs and paintings, most from between 1905-1953, that detail the literal obliteration of Stalin's political opponents and perceived enemies of the Communist Party. Stalin, wishing to take on the mantle (and halo) of his predecessor, Lenin, mounted a two-pronged media campaign: he had photographs and paintings doctored to make it look as though he was closer to Lenin than he actually was (Lenin grew increasingly worried about Stalin's aggressive power grabs, but was felled by a stroke before he could do more than urge his colleagues to reign Stalin in); and he decreed it a crime against the State to possess any images of people -- officials and otherwise -- who had been "eliminated." Hence we see curious posed photographs, from author David King's extensive personal collection, published years or even months apart, heavily doctored to eliminate one or many subjects. Chillingly, as time progresses, these photos become less populated -- as though the subjects never existed. One by one, the commissars...vanish.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Boyd

    Just plain fabulous--an invigorating fusion of the comic and terrifying, and, best of all, *real*. Perhaps because I'm not a graphic designer, I'm astounded that such camera tricks were possible in the days before digital manipulation. Particular favorite: Shots of Stalin before and after his "touch-up" In the "before" photo, he looks like regular old evil Stalin; in the "after," more like Marlene Dietrich. Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up! Incidentally, if you were fascinated by this book, Just plain fabulous--an invigorating fusion of the comic and terrifying, and, best of all, *real*. Perhaps because I'm not a graphic designer, I'm astounded that such camera tricks were possible in the days before digital manipulation. Particular favorite: Shots of Stalin before and after his "touch-up" In the "before" photo, he looks like regular old evil Stalin; in the "after," more like Marlene Dietrich. Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up! Incidentally, if you were fascinated by this book, have a look at the recent PIGGY FOXY AND THE SWORD OF REVOLUTION, a book of truly bizarre doodles made in the margins of official documents by Stalin's henchmen during Politburo meetings. Yes, it was all fun and games until the "artists" were liquidated, one by one.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deodand

    You wanna read a scary book? Read this one, it's scary as hell and 100% true. On the surface it seems quite mild - a pictorial essay about changing photographs. But you have to read with your heart, imagining yourself in Stalinist Russia. There is no alternative medium by which to receive the truth - this is the truth. When people are airbrushed out of a photo, it means they have also been "airbrushed" out of existence into a gulag, or simply shot. Waves of people who befriended Stalin and lifte You wanna read a scary book? Read this one, it's scary as hell and 100% true. On the surface it seems quite mild - a pictorial essay about changing photographs. But you have to read with your heart, imagining yourself in Stalinist Russia. There is no alternative medium by which to receive the truth - this is the truth. When people are airbrushed out of a photo, it means they have also been "airbrushed" out of existence into a gulag, or simply shot. Waves of people who befriended Stalin and lifted him up vanished into nothingness at his whim. The truth seemed to vanish before my eyes as I turned the pages.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Fascinating and chilling book detailing the manipulation of photographs during Stalin's rule in the U.S.S.R. This work details how Stalin's enemies were literally "air-brushed" from history as they were either exiled to Siberia or executed. Sheds light on both the political and technical aspects related to images of those who fell from Stalin's grace. Those expunged from Soviet public memory were also removed from private images. Families often self-censored family photos of the fallen to protec Fascinating and chilling book detailing the manipulation of photographs during Stalin's rule in the U.S.S.R. This work details how Stalin's enemies were literally "air-brushed" from history as they were either exiled to Siberia or executed. Sheds light on both the political and technical aspects related to images of those who fell from Stalin's grace. Those expunged from Soviet public memory were also removed from private images. Families often self-censored family photos of the fallen to protect themselves. This book is in large format which allows for close examination of the photographic materials. Highly recommended for those interested in history and mass media.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    This book examines a very specific piece of the Stalinist Soviet Union. This is kind of a coffee table book so it is mostly unadulterated and adulterated photos side by side with two to three paragraph captions next to them. Very depressing and haunting stuff. It does assume a pretty general knowledge of the history of the time. There were points when I just had to go with the flow a little bit as there are a lot of names that are all thrown at you with relatively little detail given to distingui This book examines a very specific piece of the Stalinist Soviet Union. This is kind of a coffee table book so it is mostly unadulterated and adulterated photos side by side with two to three paragraph captions next to them. Very depressing and haunting stuff. It does assume a pretty general knowledge of the history of the time. There were points when I just had to go with the flow a little bit as there are a lot of names that are all thrown at you with relatively little detail given to distinguish one from another.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Dunn

    This book is worth it alone for the many painstakingly sourced before and after shots of each censored picture. However the accompanying text is also informative and disturbing. Particularly when it explains how this censorship was carried out not just by party officials, but even by individual citizens who rushed to comprehensively obliterate cherished close family members from privately held photo albums and publications, as soon as those family members fell out of favour with the leadership o This book is worth it alone for the many painstakingly sourced before and after shots of each censored picture. However the accompanying text is also informative and disturbing. Particularly when it explains how this censorship was carried out not just by party officials, but even by individual citizens who rushed to comprehensively obliterate cherished close family members from privately held photo albums and publications, as soon as those family members fell out of favour with the leadership of the state.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    A friend recently reminded me that I spent a couple late hours pouring through her copy of this fascinating book last March, long after everyone else had fallen asleep. It's eerie, quietly terrifying, and absolutely stunning. Now I just have to run down a copy somewhere... A friend recently reminded me that I spent a couple late hours pouring through her copy of this fascinating book last March, long after everyone else had fallen asleep. It's eerie, quietly terrifying, and absolutely stunning. Now I just have to run down a copy somewhere...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Daisy

    Scandalous! Propaganda! This is great. Actually horrific. I had no idea that Latvians were considered "disciplined and non-squeamish" and therefore filled the Cheka (the acronym stands for "Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counterrevolution and Sabotage). What'll they think of next? Scandalous! Propaganda! This is great. Actually horrific. I had no idea that Latvians were considered "disciplined and non-squeamish" and therefore filled the Cheka (the acronym stands for "Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counterrevolution and Sabotage). What'll they think of next?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kokeshi

    Incredible. These photographs and their morphings will astound you. Many of them sent shivers up my spine. Perhaps the scariest moment is when you realize that Khrushchev continued on with the habit. Must read for anyone remotely interested in the Stalin era and/or totalitarianism.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    This is an incredible collection of photographs doctored during Stalin's reign. If you were killed, you were quite literally rubbed right out of history. It's a haunting collection. This is an incredible collection of photographs doctored during Stalin's reign. If you were killed, you were quite literally rubbed right out of history. It's a haunting collection.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Manatee

    A chilling document about one tyrant's ability to decide what is a reality and what is not. A morbidly fascinating book. A chilling document about one tyrant's ability to decide what is a reality and what is not. A morbidly fascinating book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jon Lathrop

    Chilling. Thought provoking. More chilling.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Iben

    Unbelievable collection of images and commentary.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    excellent example of Stalin's understanding of the power of propaganda excellent example of Stalin's understanding of the power of propaganda

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    The fact that this book is a work of Non-fiction will scare the life out of you once you've read it. The fact that this book is a work of Non-fiction will scare the life out of you once you've read it.

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