In Soviet Russia, Photoshop Crops You!
April 14, 2011 7:10 AM   Subscribe

An interesting article from Wired about Soviet photo manipulations from the 1960s space race.

The photo-doctoring was discovered because Soviet news managers lost track of which versions of photos had already been published, and re-released them after alteration.

The lies illustrated by these images fueled Western suspicions that a number of cosmonauts had died in secret space disasters, but it turns out this wasn't true. The erased men had either misbehaved and been expelled, or even more innocently, had simply developed disqualifying medical conditions.

In the post-Soviet era I actually had the enormous pleasure of shaking hands with one of those erased men, who had been amused by my publication of before-and-after views of his own disappearance after he was dropped from spaceflight status.

In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering space flight.
posted by PepperMax (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Not on the space race, but: The Commissar Vanishes.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:19 AM on April 14, 2011

I was just going to comment that I'd read about this years ago in one of James Oberg's books but then I noticed who wrote the article.
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 AM on April 14, 2011

Dam, R.Mutt beat me to it while I was fumbling with proper spelling.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2011

aaaand just now popped up on Slashdot about selling 1961 space capsule.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:24 AM on April 14, 2011

omg, who makes their site black text on a flaming red background? my eyes!!
posted by PepperMax at 7:29 AM on April 14, 2011

From the post on Wired:
> In this version, the man is still in the photo, but a different man, known to be the chief parachute instructor, Nikolay Nikitin, has been erased (at lower right). Nikitkin subsequently died in a parachute accident.

Hold on. Precedence is important here. What happened subsequent to what?
posted by ardgedee at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2011

Some of these are definitely the business of trying to sweep failures out of the historic record (people cropped out of group shots) but a lot of it has to do with the fact that in a space program engineering concenrs trump photogenicity pretty much every time.

Would Pravda want to run a picture that might as well be titled, "Can you find Cormrade Gagarin on this generals uniform?" Of course not - they wanted a high contrast picture, maybe with a rocket a little off center in the background that said - THE FUTURE!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:58 AM on April 14, 2011

The vivid history of censorship of images in the Soviet Union are widely known, but that article was interesting for providing a variety of versions of the same edit (missing man replaced by haze, shrub, and stairs), and the other variations.

But I agree that the photogenic touch-ups (getting rid of the random launch pad workers in the background) are less startling and more expected.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:49 AM on April 14, 2011

Here's how we do it: Robert Johnson's commemorative postage stamp.

New York Times, 17sep1994:
A stamp commemorating blues guitarist Robert Johnson was unveiled today, but the artist who prepared the stamp deleted the cigarette from the photo of Johnson used as a basis for the design.

A committee that advises the Postal Service on stamp designs had recommended the deletion "because they didn't want the stamps to be perceived as promoting cigarettes". . .
Also, Jackson Pollack, Winston Churchill, et al.
posted by Herodios at 1:40 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The manipulation of the photos was just part of the Soviet mentality that truth should be a slave of the party's interests just like everyone else. The fact that Gagarin's fellow trainee Valentin Bondarenko had died in gruesome fashion after an oxygen fire in a pressure chamber less than a month before Gagarin's flight was suppressed by the authorities until the 1980s. The Soviets also claimed that Gagarin had landed in his ship, whereas their soft landing capsule didn't work at this stage, so he'd had to parachute out after re-entry. Early local newspaper reports which mentioned the parachute were all recalled and pulped, lest the truth get out. The Soviets denied that for decades as well. Modern airbrushing of cigarettes is stupid, but let's not forget that Soviet airbrushing often meant the victim had been "erased" from real life as well.
posted by joannemullen at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2011

I wonder how much they really cared about discovery. I mean, surely they knew that these could be studied and archived somewhere. I suppose they didn't care if that was the bowels of the Pentagon or Langley, but still. Maybe the point was not disappearance per se, but obvious removal. Something akin to the curiously common FOX chyron error of "Sen. Smith (D-Scandal)".
posted by dhartung at 2:33 PM on April 14, 2011

There's a little wiki page to Tobacco bowdlerization, with a mere 6 examples, and a link to examples of images of Robert Johnson, both original and the stamp.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:48 PM on April 14, 2011

From filthy light thief's wikuhpedia link: "Author Christopher Buckley also criticized the practice, claiming that the government was "tampering with cultural DNA".

They missed a golden opportunity to write: Christopher Buckley, author of the novel Thank You For Smoking, also criticized the practice, claiming that the government was "tampering with cultural DNA".
posted by Herodios at 6:37 PM on April 14, 2011

« Older Make Fake Army, Go To Jail   |   Working against the market consensus can be a... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments