In 2001, the Newseum in Washington DC first posted an ongoing online exhibition titled, “The Commissar Vanishes: The falsification of photographs in Stalin’s Russia.” They describe it as “a virtual exhibit exploring the censored history of the Soviet Union.”
The Newseum describes itself as offering “visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.” In the “about us” section, Joe Urschel, Newseum Executive Director, says, “Visitors will come away with a better understanding of news and the important role it plays in all of our lives.”
The Photophile blog reports, “One of the first casualties of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorial rule was truth. Now, decades of doctored photographs used as a propaganda are laid out, with full view of the images before and after they were altered, in an online Newseum exhibit. ‘The Commissar Vanishes’ contains photos from the London-based David King Collection that show how government officials who fell out of favor were airbrushed out of political portraits, while dissident political slogans are turned into innocuous advertisements.”
The exhibit is comprised of both images and detailed explanations. For example, Lenin’s historical treatment of Trotsky–and his elimination–is literally acted out throughout the photographic examples on view. Some image alterations were done at the time the photos were shot. Others display photo doctoring done years after the originals were taken.
Newseum describes the image above, captured from one of its online gallery pages: “Trotsky and Lenin (top center of stairs) in 1919 photograph of a Red Square celebration is of the anniversary of the revolution. To make it suitable for a 1967 book of Lenin Photos, Trotsky is removed. This is one of the earliest and most famous examples of Stalinist retouching.”