Stalin's Russia Didn't Need Photoshop To Erase You From History

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(Original photo from 1919, a heavily airbrushed version appeared in 1967 with no Trotsky)

When you think of photoshopping, you think of removing zits, food particles around a kids mouth, slimming a waistline, or just enhancing the color and contrast. However, its roots might be more nefarious than that. 

Like most skills, photoshopping started as a way to improve things. Then also, like most skills, once someone full of power and corruption recognized the value of those skills, its purpose can change dramatically. 

David King's book The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia showcases the power of limiting what people see
"Like their counterparts in Hollywood, photographic retouchers in Soviet Russia spent long hours smoothing out the blemishes of imperfect complexions, helping the camera to falsify reality... Stalin's pockmarked face, in particular, demanded exceptional skills with the airbrush. But it was during the Great Purges, which raged in the late 1930s, that a new form of falsification emerged. The physical eradication of Stalin's political opponents at the hands of the secret police was swiftly followed by their obliteration from all forms of pictorial existence," writes David King.

Look at this series of four photos taken from a five-page gallery of images from The Commissar Vanishes

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(Original photo included from left to right: Anippov, Stalin, Kirov, and Shvernik.  Taken in Leningrad in 1926, celebrating the defeat of Zinoviev's anti-Stalinist opposition.  The photo of three reveals the disappearance of Antipov [the chandelier has also been eliminated].  Antipov had joined the Bolsheviks in 1912, chairman of the Petrograd Cheka in 1918, and later prime minister Molotov's secretary.  Arrested and sent to prison where he was the last Stalinist cadre to be shot in August 1941.  In the next picture, Shevernik was erased when the photo was used in 1949 for a short biography of Stalin.  Finally, an oil painting by Brodsky based on the original photo. Stalin the executioner alone remains)


I mean, this is the kind of power certain politicians around the world today would covet. The ability to control information is paramount when you have an agenda. That photo also says a lot about his temperament more than anything else. To keep re-visiting and editing out people as time passes, as more and more people "betray" him is maniacal. 

This was hard work too. There were no computers back then or programs named Photoshop to help you, well... photoshop. Skilled technicians used scalpels, glue, acids and airbrushes like surgeons to create multiple exposures layered on top of one another forming whatever truth Stalin wanted out there at the moment. 

Let's look at this example from David's book of Stalin and his friends.

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"This group shot, taken at the 14th Party Conference in April 1925 is a classic example of Stalinist photographic manipulation. Only one of Stalin's comrades in this picture would die from natural causes. The same photograph published in 2 biographies of Stalin that appeared in 1939 and 1949, has been retouched and rearranged to reduce the group to four, 60% of those present were erased from history."

It continues:

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"Standing behind Lenin and his chess partner Bogdanov, and next to Gorky [hat on and hand in chin] is Zinovii Peshkov. In the first picture, Peshkov had disappeared, while in the next picture he reappears  There is no explanation for this disappearance-reappearance."

There's no written historical reason for Zinovii Peshkov to be removed from that photo and that makes the most amount of sense of all these altered photos, as there's no real reason it was done to any of them, except because someone was told to do it. 

You can buy David's book now, on Amazon.