How photo manipulations became a tool of Soviet propaganda

Arthur Bondar
While some photo montages in Soviet newspapers were done for purely artistic purposes (there was no Photoshop back then!), others appeared to carry a more underhand motive – to serve the interests of propaganda.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

These photomontages depicting events from the Second World War represent one of the most common instruments of Soviet propaganda.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

Simultaneously preoccupied by war and sustaining the military muscle, the authorities saw propaganda as a way to lower anxiety among the public and increase its fighting spirit.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

In this sense propaganda worked as a “third front” to suppress the enemy, inspiring the army and praising the allies.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

These photo collages – 15 centimeters up to 1 meter in length – are how they really looked in print newspapers.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

During the war no one could get to the front line without special written permission. Without this, anyone with a camera could face criminal charges.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

The pictures of the “lucky” photographers sent to capture the war on film always ended up in the Soviet Information Bureau, a Soviet news agency that was in charge of covering international events, military developments and everyday life through newspapers and radio.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

After going through strict censorship and manipulation, different photos then were compiled together as a sort of patchwork and colored with white gouache and ink. It was called an “artistic retouch” and was done by people with a degree in art.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

The next step was to photocopy and send the manipulated images to the printing house. The images in the final newspaper were seamless, without a trace of manipulation.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

Very few examples of this “art” can be found these days. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many newspapers were closed and their material was either lost or disposed of.

 / Arthur Bondar / Arthur Bondar

Luckily, some collages survived in the hands of individual collectors, and now these rare montages offer a glimpse into just how easy it was to change the meaning of even the most truthful photos.

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