Armed with airbrushes and scalpels, censors routinely tried to erase enemies of Stalin from Soviet history by falsifying photographs.
Photographs can lie. They certainly did in the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1953, the years of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorial rule. Stalin’s agents routinely arrested and killed as “enemies of the people” anyone who disagreed with his politics. Communist Party workers then tried to remove any trace of these people from the state’s photographic archives, and so from the media.
By the 1930s, communist “truth” circulated worldwide in party approved books. With airbrush or ink spot or scalpel, the photo censors worked quietly. But despite their power, they ultimately failed. This exhibit provides a stark visual tour through a society where freedom was not an option — the culture of control that went on to create the Berlin Wall.
Much of the content below appeared in a print exhibit at the Newseum in 1999 and a companion digital exhibit called “The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia,” based on a 1997 book by David King by the same name. All photographs are licensed by the David King Collection, London.