Sunday, January 21, 2007

Funny things with pictures

Long before the introduction of Photoshop twenty years ago this year, the Soviets - and even some Russians before them - knew their way around pictures.

Probably the most infamous must have been the way Stalin dealt with is political opponents. According to the way he saw them, he would have them removed from the pictures where they appeared. Best known is the way he dealt with Trotsky.

And there was much to do at the time of World War II. Probably Yevgeny Khaldei can be considered as the master of his time. Both in staging and in manipulation. Coen already wrote about this on the occasion of Victory Day last year. Of course it was realistic - yet unheard of that Soviet soldiers would loot their Nazi victims and wear multiple wristwatches on the famous Reichstag picture. The picture itself was already staged, but in order for it to express the true spirit of Soviet Victory, some airbrushing needed to be done consequently.

One fine example of nice things that can result from tricking images, is the work of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, available in digital high quality at the Library of Congress. He portrayed Tsarist Russia in full colour between 1909 and the Revolution. He took images using colour filters for red, green and blue. The negatives of these images allowed for reconstruction of the true colours almost a century later. This process produced some remarkable images of the “lost world”, like the portrait of the Minister of the Interior under the Emir of Bukhara that can be seen at the top of this story, taken before 1915.

And sometimes pictures have the power to portray that reality can be bizarre too.

The picture on the left is Cathedral of the Dormition at Kiev Pechersk Lavra before it got demolished during World War II. The picture on the right was taken by me in 2001, shortly after the reconstruction. It seems the architects who undertook the reconstruction did not have pre-WWII footage of the Cathedral. As can be clearly seen, the cathedral was not symmetric before the war, but it is now!

No comments: