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

The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia 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 theremarkable 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 severalpages 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 werecountries 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 CohenPage 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 , 1920Page 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 muchimportant than they actually were, is revised under pressure from Khrushchev to remove Stalin and his associates Page 190 Acknowledgments, Bibliography, IndexPage 192 1944 NKVD officer s identification card. This islike 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. 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 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 APhotograph 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 There quite simply is no other book like this. 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. 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 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. 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. Or, The Coffee Table Photography book from Hell.This is a summary, in glossy pictures, of photographic manipulation in the Stalinist period of the Soviet Union It is a direct precedent of Orwell, where history itself is shaped as a political tool.It is easy to determine the general themes of this work the deification of Stalin, and the elimination of all of his competitors Stalin did not do so much in the early stages of the Russian Revolution, so as compensation he purged everyone else in Russian History and he replaced them It even became a crime to own photographs of these un persons, so one sees examples of faces scratched out or blotted with ink More andpeople disappear as the historical narrative changes We see this on the sample picture on the dust cover, where a group of five people all disappear except for Stalin, and the last blurry cutup is turned into a painting.Leaders of the secret police vanish Yagoda, then Yezhov Military personnel vanish You see ghostly outlines of where they once where Even artists vanish too, for having expressed something too avant garde, or for once having praised Trotsky some twenty years previously Sometimes it s almost funny The censors even make sure to remove the litter, or make sure the ocean is nice and calm, or occasionally leave in somebody s shoulder, or forget to take out a telescope which looks like a gun.The saddest instance is a propaganda shot of Stalin with an adorable little girl, with her joyous father in the background The father was later brushed out of the picture because he was shot, and the remaining image was a sign of Stalin s fatherly characteristics.The book is just under a square foot in size and is organized clearly I would have appreciatedWorld War II propaganda but that in itself might deserve its own volume.A truly frightening set of pictures, because they are all real. Watch as the great magician Stalin makes commissars disappear Truly one of the most chilling books I have read recently.

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  • Hardcover
  • 192 pages
  • The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia
  • David King
  • English
  • 27 May 2019
  • 9780805052947

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