[mouse over to see the original image]
In this well-known doctored photograph (taken circa 1936), Mao Tse-tung (right) had Po Ku (far left in the mouse over image) removed.
I tweeted A couple weeks back about artist and photographer Zhang Dali’s installation called “A Second History” which shows doctored archival photographs published in China during the Mao era alongside the original images newly printed from negatives. It is quite a glimpse into how retouched photography is used to improve a government’s public image.
One of the pieces shown in Zhang Dali’s installation “A Second History” now on display at the SZ Art Center in northern Beijing.
Zhang told the Wall Street Journal…
“I started this research because I was wondering how to explore what is not clearly visible,” he explains. “I was wondering how to get into the head of someone else—the censors, in this instance. My photographic project has revealed some unexpected things: the main one, that propaganda is much more complex than it seems; it encompasses more than simply making a political point. What the censors were doing was not simply faking documents but also obeying the aesthetic requirements of the time. Unattractive faces become beautiful, short people become tall, narrow eyes are widened, people looking too scruffy in countryside scenes are deleted altogether,” he comments, showing an album of some of his findings.
The message to be conveyed was at times presented subtly, as in one of Mr. Zhang’s favorite examples, a famous picture from 1952 that sees Premier Zhou Enlai, Mao and Gen. Zhu De saluting the parading troops from a podium on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army. In the original shot, one can spot the half-visible heads of five young, smiling soldiers in the background, the leaders protected by a balustrade in front of them, with two round paper parasols shading their heads from the fierce August sun. But this version of the photo was short-lived. In the one that most Chinese are familiar with, the balustrade is gone—and so are the delicate parasols, replaced by a more solemn-looking plaque of the People’s Liberation Army, with the dates “1927-1952″ underneath in bold white numbers. And in the background the smiling faces have been replaced by plant leaves, leaving the three men to salute in solitary splendor.