Look Once, Look Twice: Retouched Press Prints from the Sovfoto Archive

Unidentified Photographer, The Stalingrad area. A tank-borne detachment, November, 1942, gelatin silver print.
E. Evzerikhin, Air Marshal K. Vershinin, Commander of the Air Forces of the Soviet Union, and Vladimir Kuzhanin, a Moscow school boy and a prominent aircraft-model builder who has set a series of records in this field, January, 1948, gelatin silver print.
Unidentified Photographer, A group of fight planes presented to the Red Army by the workers of an aircraft-building factory in Moscow, n.d., gelatin silver print.
V. Stepanenko, Hero of the Soviet Union Skaterina Riabova, February, 1948, gelatin silver print.
Unidentified Photographer, Ragged, frostbitten, lice-infested…, February, 1942, gelatin silver print.
Unidentified Photographer, Meeting the demobilized veterans at the Rzhev Station, Moscow, July, 1945, gelatin silver print.
Unidentified Photographer, Marchinkov, Minister of Aviation, n.d., gelatin silver print.
Unidentified Photographer, The First Leningrad School for Children, n.d., gelatin silver print.
V. Grebnev, The Turkmenian Dance Ensemble, n.d., gelatin silver print.
N. Kulshov, Surakan Kainazarova, leader of a team of sugar beet growrs of the Veroshilov Collective Farm, n.d., gelatin silver print.
Samary Gurary, At the Berlin [Potsdam] Conference, 1945, gelatin silver print.
December 3, 2016 - March 5, 2017

Look Once, Look Twice: Altered Photographs from the Sovfoto Archive
December 3, 2016 to March 5, 2017
Joan Lehman Gallery and www.maclarenart.com
Curator: Emily McKibbon
Reception: Thursday, December 8, 7 to 9 pm

Look Once, Look Twice presents altered photographs from the MacLaren Art Centre’s collection of Soviet-era press photographs. The Sovfoto Archive comprises 23,116 vintage gelatin silver prints dating from 1936 to 1957, all originating from New York-based press agency Sovfoto. This collection has a particular focus on World War II and its aftermath, as well as Soviet life in the pre-war and post-war periods. Established in 1932, Sovfoto received state-sanctioned photographs from the Soviet Information Bureau (Sovinformburo) on consignment. Photographs were selected, often retouched, and appended with English captions, all before leaving the USSR. Sovfoto later became Sovfoto/Eastfoto and continues to operate under that name.

The majority of images in this exhibition were retouched for print legibility, with backgrounds removed or simplified and highlight details sharpened. While these changes may have been made to clarify the image for halftone reproduction, these alterations remain a cogent reminder that the “truth” of a photograph isn’t always fixed in photochemistry.