One Frozen Moment in Time


Instead of a thousand words, I take a photograph. It tells a story by distilling an idea into one frozen moment in time. It is direct, unchanging and undiluted. Photographs capture the spontaneous – life as it happens. But photographs can tell another story – a deliberate and compelling idea. This is photography as theatre. It leaves nothing to chance. It is deliberate and planned in every visual detail. It is the staging of a photograph in the same way a film or theatre production constructs and stages a scene to tell a story.

Several years ago I came across a documentary about the purges Stalin undertook in the Soviet Union of the 1930’s. It featured photographs of victims – men and women who were executed during Stalin’s terror. They were perceived as a threat to the State or a threat to his personal power. But so deep was his paranoia that it was not enough that they should die. Their very memory must be erased. Photographs of their faces were either “painted” over or scratched out. In some cases, those talented in early photographic techniques were employed to make people “disappear.” There are some interesting photographs of Stalin with those who worked for him. As they fell out of favour they simply disappeared from photographs in which they had originally been present. No record of them must remain. It was as if these people had never existed. I felt in small way I should tell their story. This was the reason for Revisionism. It is part of a series that will be called “The –ISM- Collection.” Originally Revisionism was conceived as a single raw looking photograph to mimic those from the 30’s. The first in what is now a series of three.

The man holding the erased portrait in the first picture above is the son of Soviet dissidents. The photograph in his hands is of a man who was executed in the Soviet purges. In the second photograph, the man holding the victim’s picture becomes a victim himself. The third photograph completes the work of the revisionist. Any record that they ever existed disappears.

For obvious reasons, the idea of revisionism translates well into photographic form. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for many abstract ideas. This is the challenge of photography as theatre. Constructing an image to capture a complex idea, in a clear and concise way, can be a daunting process. When it works, photography as theatre has a power that an incidental, spontaneous image cannot. The passive art of photography as record keeper, as a witness to history is replaced. It is not a matter of documenting a moment in time. It is a matter of creating it. It is taking a thought, an idea in the mind’s eye and giving it a vision that everyone can see.

Paul Williamson is a Television Producer and Photographer living in Hamilton, Ontario. Email him at pwilliamson@cogeco.ca.

  • Chezwick_Mac

    As horrific as the "Great Purge" was (1937-38), it paled in comparison to the collectivization of agriculture (1929-33).

    The victims in '37-38 totaled approximately between 1 and 6 million (depending on your source); in 1929-33, the number of victims ran as high as 20 million. Those who were executed in '37 were almost all shot, humane compared to the '29-33 victims, most of whom either starved via man-made famine or were worked to death in the White Sea Canal construction and the Gulag camps. Those shot in '37-38 were mostly party and state cadres who had been part of the totalitarian machine; those killed in '29-33 were mostly peasants who had nothing to do with the regime.

    Roy Medvedev ('Let History Judge') and Robert Conquest ('Harvest of Sorrow', 'The Great Terror') are the two most authoritative sources on this period in Soviet history. Reading these accounts, one realizes that behind the mind-boggling numbers is story after story of human tragedy, of loss, of heartbreak, of family breakdown, of pervasive fear, and – in the case of collectivization, of cannibalism.

    All of it was completely unnecessary…except as a means of enabling one man's megalomania. And his indispensable vehicle was a delusional theory of earthly redemption called 'Communism'.

    • tarleton

      To be fair , it was not just Stalin…..collectivisation was going to happen under any soviet leadership ….Lenin , Trotsky or Buhkarin

      • Chezwick_Mac

        Actually, Bukharin, along with politburo allies Tomski and Rykov, strenuously opposed collectivization (Stalin branded them the 'Right Opposition'). They promulgated a conciliatory policy towards the peasantry until they were defeated politically and forced to recant.

        As you suggest, Trotsky was indeed a proponent of collectivization, but one very different than the forced version demanded by Stalin. Trotsky's vision – however naive – was based on an actual economic paradigm. Stalin's program was first haphazard and then pushed at break-neck speed. His principle motivation seemed to be the theft of grain in order to finance his huge industrial projects. The fact that agricultural production plummeted seemed to make little difference to him….the theft became institutionalized…and the peasantry was starved.

  • Guest

    I think it was Robert Conquest who said that under Stalin, Soviet society was 1/3 unapprehended "criminals," 1/3 informers, and 1/3 in prison and labor camps.

    Another historian said that during the Stalin period, 1/6 of the total population was murdered for various reasons.

    Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago, compared the Nazis and the Soviets and commented that at least the Nazis drew a line; if you crossed it, you were exterminated, while under Stalin, the line changed depending on who Stalin feared and the need for slave labor for the projects he concocted, such as the White Sea Canal. In the Soviet world, you never knew when you were going to cross the line and disappear forever.

    • Citizen-Comrade

      And after The Great Stalin-Belomor Canal was built it was found to be too shallow for the size of ships it was built for. Solzhenitsyn compared the building of it to the building of the pyramids in their use of primitive labor. NKVD head Yagoda was senior at that construction project and afterwards he received his reward, a bullet in the back of his head. Good riddance. May they all rot in Hell along with Hiss, White, Currie, Oppenheimer, Rosenberg & Rosenberg and Browder.

  • Guest

    Correction: that first 1/3 was police, the next 1/3 informers, and the last 1/3 prisoners.

  • Guest

    One last thing: one thing that always chilled me about Stalin is that when he would make a public appearance, the applause for him went on and on and on, endlessly. The explanation is that people were so frightened of being the first to stop applauding that they just continued. Evidently Stalin eventually called for an end when he got tired of it.

  • alex

    You have no idea how much our current (US) demagogues/ apparatchiks spewing deception and drivel on TV, remind us, former Soviet slaves, our 25-40 years past within the Iron Curtain. Truly depressing! Our past is catching with us here!!!

    Just watch and listen BHO, Barney Frank, Dodd, Clintons and so on. Glossy eyes and lie with every breath. Obviously, the goal is as always the same –personal enrichment and self-gratification.

    It is hard to believe, but the people (today’s 50% of US population and 1917th Russians) being lead and willfully duped by these criminals are mentally of the same nature.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-11/u-s-is-b… nce-kotlikoff.html

    • http://theunknownamerican.blogspot.com theunknownamerican

      I'm beginning to notice a pattern where bad news is not even shown. Its not even talked about. Its like a thought vacuum in which bad news about Obama don't need to be censored because they don't exist.

      Don't forget the fact that most of our media spends its time talking about non-news items such as sports and celebrities. Its like a diversion for the public to keep their mind off of the happennings of the government so the government can operate anyway they want. Fox news isn't much better sometimes.

    • IreneAdler

      This is why my 10 year-old son is currently reading "Animal Farm" by George Orwell. At least he will not be one of the willfully duped.

  • http://theunknownamerican.blogspot.com theunknownamerican

    This is kind of a most interesting symptom of totalitarianism. Its not enough to kill the dissident but you have to erase him from our conscious existence so that the crime, the ideas, and the 'evilness' of the act is erased because if no one has any knowledge of it then how can you say it happened. Its like they are more interested in maintaining a thought bubble around society in which only some ideas are allowed to flow through it.

  • beezeebeez

    Alex, you are absolutely correct in your assessment of our current administration. Everything they have done over that past 18 months is all about POWER and has nothing to do with restoring our nation or enriching our lives. Everything they say is PROPAGANDA to lull us into a trusting trance. BHO even spelled out exactly what his intentions are before we elected him into power, just as Hitler had done years before he rose to power in Germany with his "Mein Kampf".

  • howard

    what happened to the video of dubya's surprise visit to troops in iraq, thanksgiving day 2003? "Bremer then said that we should probably get someone more senior to read the speech. Then, from behind the camouflage netting, the President of the United States came around. The mess hall actually erupted with hollering. Troops bounded to their feet with shocked smiles and just began cheering with all their hearts. The building actually shook. It was just unreal. I was absolutely stunned. Not only for the obvious, but also because I was only two tables away from the podium. There he stood, less than thirty feet away from me! The cheering went on and on and on."

    i saw the video right after the visit by dubya and secy of state rice. our troops loved him. my deployed nephew who was there when the prez appeared from behind the curtain confirmed the walls were ringing with hoorahs and applause.

    now, the stalinist revisionist haters have completely scrubbed the inspiring video away from the internet. it doesn't exist anymore. all you can see about the visit is photos of bush serving turkey up to the warriors afterwards. these thugs love to rewrite history.

    • IreneAdler

      Contrast that to when Obama visited Kuwait. My deployed brother was there, and he said that Obama would not speak with anyone who wasn't from Illinois. The troops were treated like they were invisible, unless something was desired – then they were treated like slaves. From what I heard, there was no cheering then.

  • Merlin12

    What did Michelle say? We'll have to change our history? I pray that this indicates that they are too stupid to pull this off. Or maybe they think WE are so stupid that they don't even hide it.

  • GBArg

    This November 2 marks the beginning of the end for the Illinois Marxis thug. Work with your local candidate, and take 5 people to the polls with you. We.will.bury.them.

  • Carol

    What an interesting readership FPM has. Howard, you have brought tears to my eyes.
    Possibly, someone, somewhere, saved the video. I was aware that a lot Bush was doing as President , the press and media absolutely refused to publish, or air. I think, that lack diminished the understanding of what he was doing in Iraq, and on the domestic scene, and,thus, he lost needed support for much of what he tried to do, and his policies suffered, thinking he would not have support. No one worked harder than this man, and he needed the support.The Congress was more hateful and vile than I had ever seen in my life.
    There was reportedly a virtual museum that was supposed to be erected memorializing Stalin's victims.I haven't heard about it, since.
    In addition, the photo tricks were used by the Arab-Palestinians as early as the 1920's.