The Commissar Vanishes: the falsification of photographs and art in Stalin’s Russia – David King

I read about this book within another book and decided I need to have a copy. I’m so pleased I did as it’s a fascinating book.

David King has spent a considerable amount of time tracking down different versions of photographs published in the Stalin era and comparing them; who has been removed now they are an “unperson”, who has been moved and who has been added in (the latter mainly Stalin!)

King also analyses the changes to identify how they have been changed. Some have been airbrushed, some merely cropped and others crudely reconstructed or blacked out. He also points out where the airbrusher has missed covering up a shoulder or cap, leaving it floating in mid-air, which I found quite funny.

It is astonishing looking at the starting point for some of the pictures and then seeing what they eventually became.

David King is good at giving the names of the people in the photos and giving some context for when the photo was originally taken. I would have liked a bit more context for what happened to the people who were removed. I understand that many of them fell during the Great Terror but it would have been useful to be reminded of what these people did when they had power and why Stalin saw them as a threat.

I don’t think this book added to my knowledge of Stalinist Russia but, living in an age when people doctor photographs all the time, it was interesting to see these pictures and reflect on the varied reasons people don’t want things to be seen as they are.

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