The Soviets mastered photo manipulation long before the age of Photoshop

In 1984, George Orwell created a slogan for his oppressive government, The Party — "Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present controls the past". Written in 1949, he could have been describing the state propaganda machine of Soviet Russia. Open Culture describes how art departments cut, pasted, and airbrushed photos to perfect, and in many cases, erase the past.

"Like their counterparts in Hollywood, photographic retouchers in Soviet Russia spent long hours smoothing out the blemishes of imperfect complexions, helping the camera to falsify reality," writes David King in the introduction to his book The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia. "Stalin's pockmarked face, in particular, demanded exceptional skills with the airbrush. 

Propaganda artisans erased more than bad skin. In the late 30s, during the height of Stalin's purges of perceived political enemies, they eradicated photo evidence that Stalin's opponents had ever existed. The photo doctoring also covered up any failures of the administration.

This practice even extended to the materials of the Soviet space program, writes Wired's James Oberg. Cosmonauts temporarily erased from history include Valentin Bondarenko, who died in a fire during a training exercise and the especially promising Grigoriy Nelyubov…who "had been expelled from the program for misbehavior and later killed himself."
Yesterday's hands-on alterations have advanced to today's highly sophisticated deep fakes, which would probably horrify Orwell…and delight Stalin.

More: How Photos Became a Weapon in Stalin's Great Purge

Previously: Soviet medallions scattered on Moon in 1959