Wall of Fame
Wall of Fame
I dug up some newspaper binders with local and factory publications and was browsing them for pictures. Best performers, Stakhanovite workers, those who delivered 200% and 300% of the output quota. Each such photograph has a short caption about the worker’s achievement. Until the 1970s, there never was any mention of the actual product they manufactured, since it was classified. To my eyes, all these newspaper stories seem to be based on a common copy. Local and factory print media were molding an image of a hero, taking cues from the Pravda newspaper and other major outlets. Upon closer examination, these photographs reveal a number of special features:
Retouching. Photos from the 1930s have obvious additions, a tie or formal jacket painted in. The hero’s gaze was always outlined clearly, skin defects were removed. Retouching goes away almost completely after the 1960s, and the pictures look more “natural.”
Soviet news photographers were well aware of printing limitations and tried to make the contrast in their shots as stark as possible. Still, many newspaper imprints came out very blurry. Some were even lacking clear facial features.
The style has changed dramatically too: staged studio portraits of the 1930s gave way to dynamic diagonally-arranged shots of the 1950s. The 1960s saw first portraits with actual process equipment in the background. In the 1980s, there was an obvious push to infuse these on-site shots with heroic dramatism.
The dominant hero brand has been changing too: a Stakhanovite in the 1930s, a romantic worker envisioning a better future in the 1950s, an enthusiastic laborer at work in the 1960–70s.
Your mind inevitably projects onto each of these images and makes the subject into a character of their time. One of the portraits is of my grandmother. A newspaper picture that makes a close relative into a cliché, I did not even recognize her at first. These photographs do not show us individuals but abstract images that were put together by an ideological machine and speak about the context and their time rather than about personalities.