1st Edition

Photography and Political Repressions in Stalin’s Russia Defacing the Enemy

By Denis Skopin Copyright 2022
    168 Pages 25 Color & 36 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    168 Pages 25 Color & 36 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book is devoted to the phenomenon of removal of people declared "public enemies" from group photographs in Stalin’s Russia.

    The book is based on long-term empirical research in Russian archives and includes 57 photographs that are exceptional in terms of historical interest: all these images bear traces of editing in the form of various marks, such as blacking-out, excisions or scratches. The illustrative materials also include a group of photographs with inscriptions left by officers of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD. To approach this extensive visual material, Denis Skopin draws on a wealth of Stalin-era written sources: memoirs, diaries and official documents. He argues that this kind of political iconoclasm cannot be confused with censorship nor vandalism. The practice in question is more harrowing and morally twisted, for in most cases the photos were defaced by those who were part of victim’s intimate circle: his/her colleagues, friends or even close family members.

    The book will be of interest to scholars working in history of photography, art history, visual culture, Russian studies and Russian history and politics.

    Introduction 1. Stalin’s Repressions: Historical Overview and Theoretical Examination 2. “Portrait” Criminal Cases 3. Group Portraits: Ontological and Political Backgrounds of the Genre 4. Collapse of Interpersonal and Family Relationships During the Terror: Editing Photographs of Friends and Family Members 5. The Photographs of “Former People” in the NKVD Card Indexes and Edited Photographs of the Secret Police Officers Conclusion


    Denis Skopin is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia.

    "The book ... is a conceptually and empirically rich study of a corpus of 57 photographs from Stalinist Russia (many of them from Memorial’s archives), in which faces of people declared “enemies of the state” have been removed: scratched out, painted over or otherwise excised. While the existence of such photographs is well known..., Skopin is the first to probe this practice for what it reveals about both Soviet history and the ontology of photography — group photography in particular."

    --History News Network

    "While delving into the possibly deeper psychological aspects of things, Skopin focuses on the self-preservation instincts of those who manipulated the given photographs, who were driven by the need to find out not only who is and is not the enemy in the photograph, but also where the boundaries between these incompatible worlds lay within their own minds. He shows how this level of highly personal and intimate consideration is different from the more general level of censorship/self-censorship or cultural barbarism/vandalism. He deserves great credit for inviting us to travel to these depths, and for the sensitivity he showed along the way."

    --The Russian Review