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Striking Photos From Soviet History

During the years of its publication, Soviet Photo was the most popular magazine about photography for amateurs and professionals in the country. The publication’s life span, the subject of a new exhibit at Moscow’s Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, charted the changing mores of photography in the Eastern Bloc. 

It ran from 1927 to 1997, documenting Soviet life—at least as much as it could while toeing the official party line. The Soviet Union’s General Directorate for the Protection of State Secrets in the Press monitored all media, helping shape the image of the Soviet Union through publications like Soviet Photo, where the best artists and photojournalists published censor-friendly images of war, politics, the music scene, and everyday life. 

They provide a glossy image of life in the Soviet Union throughout the 20th century. The magazine’s archives reflect “very well how the country and its culture changed,” Ekaterina Zueva, the Lumiere Brothers Center’s exhibition curator, tells mental_floss in an email.

This is what getting a manicure in the Soviet Union in 1929 looked like! For what it's worth, nail polish is more than 5000 years old, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia.

Left-wing photographers of the 1920s adopted extreme lines, shooting at diagonal angles and cropping striking images to hew to their motto, “new times demand new forms.”

Sunbathing hunk alert. Dinamo Station, where this photo was taken, is named after the nearby sports stadium. It's home to the Dinamo Sports Society, a group founded in 1923 that produced numerous star athletes in the Soviet Union (and was linked to the secret police). At that time, it was Moscow's main sports arena. 

This image of people receiving safety instructions for bombings was taken on the first day of World War II, according to Zueva. At right, a volunteer puts up anti-fascist propaganda posters. 

The "symbolic image of the scientist against the blackboard covered with formulas became iconic," Zueva says. The scientist in question is a physics and mathematics doctorate named Vsevolod Balashov. 

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev eat lunch on a collective farm (kolkholz) called Guripsh. The kolkholz system of collective farming was one of the Soviet Union’s main methods of agriculture. Collectives of peasants farmed state-owned land, and were paid based on the days they worked and the quantity of food they produced. These peasants were largely prohibited from leaving these plots of land for the city. 

The Soviet team took home all the gold medals in women's gymnastics at the 1973 Universiade (the World Student Games) in Moscow.

Igor Mukin's photo of singer Oleg Garkusha would “become a symbol of the new time of  Рerestroykа, of [the] new young protest generation,” Zueva says. 

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