The First “Photoshopped” Photo in History

You’d think the era of retouched pictures started in 1988 when Adobe bought a license to launch a new software called Photoshop. But this is not the case. The retouched pictures existed long before 1988 and some of them were even used to rewrite the histories of a country. Soviet leader Josef Stalin is one of the first and most known in history for using photo manipulation strategy to achieve his own career goals and propaganda.

Stalin’s Photoshop Team

As early as 1930, Stalin anticipated the power of the act of photographic retouching and he became so fascinated by it that he formed a large team and later even created a mini-industry called image doctoring. He was the one who orchestrated the manipulation of the pictures, which after they were finished, were presented as documentary evidence. In this way, Stalin was able for many years to present each “truth” as he wanted while Western leaders had no slightest idea of what he was doing.

The First “Photoshopped” Photo

The First Photoshopped Photo in History - Lenin and Stalin

The First Photoshopped Photo in History – Lenin and Stalin Source WikiCommons

The first and most famous picture that Stalin ordered to be retouched was the one in which he appeared with Lenin. In order to be loved by Lenin’s supporters, Stalin asked his large group of photo retouchers to manipulate the picture so as to give the impression that he and Lenin were two close friends. Stalin’s men followed the order and managed to suture the two portraits side by side, giving the impression that the two were best friends when in reality they were not.

Rewriting History Through Retouched Pictures

Realizing that no one noticed what he was doing and that the manipulation of photos was a great strategy, Stalin decided to go a step further.  During the Great Purge, he decided to go back in time and completely erase persons and personal enemies from the history of the USSR. Nikolai Ejov was one of the most devoted supporters of Joseph Stalin who, after being arrested and convicted, was removed from photographs and archives.

Nikolai Yezhov, pictured right of Stalin, was later removed from this photograph at the Moscow Canal

Nikolai Yezhov, pictured right of Stalin, was later removed from this photograph at the Moscow Canal (Source: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images & AFP/GettyImages)

Sometimes some pictures had been retouched several times since Stalin’s political enemies list grew increasingly more. An example is a picture in which Stalin appeared along with his three deputies. As each of them became his enemies, they were removed one by one from the photograph, until Stalin was the only one left.

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