Visualizing Stalinism: Photography of the Early GULags


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Art


This dissertation argues that aesthetics was a crucial component in the rise of Stalinism, and that the fledgling state’s policies were deeply informed by how they would look. To demonstrate this, the project investigates official representations of Soviet forced labor camps, GULags, between 1927 and 1934. While after 1934 and despite their rapid growth the GULags essentially disappeared from view and became an invisible chain of repressive sites, in the early 1930s the Soviet government framed the penal system as a humane way to educate and rehabilitate criminals and its political opponents. This study focuses especially on the moments where the official images fail as propaganda, sometimes in effect undoing their own claims, in order to show how these pictorial incongruities reveal the fault lines in the evolution of the state’s view, and representation, of itself.