Photographic manipulation did not start with the invention of “ Photoshop”. It is as old as photography itself. “Airbrushing”, which involved spraying ink or paint onto a photograph, is often associated with the fashion industry. It can, for example, be used to improve the complexion of the model.
In Stalin’s Russia “airbrushing” was not just used for making spots on the skin disappear. It was used to make entire human beings disappear from photographs. People who fell out of favour physically vanished and then were lifted right out of history. They had not ceased to exist, they were considered never to have existed. Their names were not to be spoken, their faces wiped out of memory.
The four images below were reproduced on the cover of David King’s book “The Commissar Vanishes – The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia”. The first photograph shows, from left to right, Nikolai Antipov, Stalin, Sergei Kirov, and Nikolai Shvernik In the second photograph Antipov has been removed. He was imprisoned and later shot. The third photograph shows Stalin and Sergei Kirov. Kirov was a popular figure in the Communist Party. Perhaps Stalin thought he was a little too popular. Kirov was assassinated in 1934 in mysterious circumstances.
The final image shows Stalin all alone. Isolation and paranoia dominated the end of his life.
Online exhibitions of Stalin’s photographic manipulation can be accessed using these links: