Old Photos: Retouching The History

The extent of the falsification of the official Soviet history is still mind-boggling many years after the USSR went extinct. “The Commissar Vanishes” by David King provides a small glimpse into the Soviet photo manipulation at the time when a Photoshop was an actual photo shop. In the years after the Revolution as the result of the Red Terror and later the Great Purge, the official history had to be corrected to reflect the destruction of millions of the “enemies of the people”. Many of them were prominent revolutionaries, frequently appearing next to Lenin and Stalin in the photographs. It was easier to get rid of a person than completely wipe out the record of their existence, but the Soviet people were persistent and came close to erasing all traces of the entire lives from the record. Some of the materials shown in the book survived only abroad. Even owning a photo could trigger a new way of arrests and murders.

I copied a few photos from the book (I am pretty sure illegally) but it is available from the library so if the subject interests you, go ahead and rent it. I am not even going to list the people on the photos (I am sure you’ll recognize Stalin); what’s important is that each airbrushing or a crop represents death, labor camps, murder, lies and in many cases disappearance of the whole families, their friends, co-workers and sometimes neighbors.

Here is another set:

Do we engage in cleaning up history? The answer is: every day. Sometimes it’s innocent like omitting a distinguished employment at Domino’s, sometimes it’s more serious like erasing some unpleasant facts from a politician’s biography. Hopefully it will never come to this again:

UPDATE: Emaw unleashed his Googling skills to find my own long-lost and retouched photo.

  • This reminds me of the German words for History: Historie: the facts as they actually happened and Geschichte: the story of what happened. The Soviets (just like the Nazis) were masterminds in “reinterpreting” both the Historie and the Geschichte. It’s sad to think how many real events were lost because of this…that book sounds absolutely fascinating…

  • Very interesting!

  • I’ve had to do that in wedding group photos when boyfriends of the bride’s sisters are out of the picture suddenly. It ain’t easy. I always try to get the family to take one picture with and one without.

  • This post is really cool. It actually prompted me to do a little more research. It’s amazing what kind of dirt you can dig up on people using the internet.

  • It seems like the more open your jacket is, the less likely it is for you to make the touch up… good to know.

  • Thanks for finding my long lost photo, Emaw. Internet makes it tougher to wipe out our traces, long after I croak my carrot recipe will still be somewhere in Google cache.
    Logtar, I think it goes more like: is the person on the photo Stalin? Yes-leave on the photo; No-shoot and retouch, go back to the start.
    hyperblogal- do you replace them with the background or a vase?or maybe a muppet?

  • Korean Person

    WOW, what an awesome post and book!

  • David Remley

    I’ve done the same thing with boyfriends in family wedding pictures….