Review by Gerhard Clausing •
This impressive photobook starts with the well-known quote by George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And sure enough, the publication of this book is very timely, since we again find ourselves experiencing various similar expansive acts of aggression and a variety of autocratic political endeavors that are counter to democratic principles.
So it is with great delight that we survey the work of Arthur Grace, who has been a keen observer of political events around the world for decades. This publication presents his Soviet Bloc photographs, “behind the Iron Curtain,” taken primarily in the USSR, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the German Democratic Republic during the 1970s and 1980s. Grace had access to more than the ordinary journalist, and we are the beneficiaries of that access. He cast his keen view on many moments of daily life in all those countries that required close observation and sustained attention to detail to be presented as photographic documentation, as well as on historical events that were incisive then and serve as a warning now.
Many of the images are simply visually stunning. Goose-stepping soldiers and police at rapt attention, crowd events that show a wish to fall into place and not stick out from the crowd. My own trips, particularly to East Germany in those years, confirm that those who did not rebel against the system were able to conduct their unassuming daily lives unfettered by strife and worries. Those who dared to oppose the imposing systems were on the receiving end of retribution and punishment, mental, physical, and economic, all the way to loss of life for their opposing beliefs (sounds familiar!).
We observe that Grace’s images are a very realistic mix, showing scenes of private moments as well as public extravaganzas and representative behavioral particulars. Economic conditions often were rudimentary and allowed no luxuries for the majority of the population. Nevertheless, as information about Western music and fashions and a more free-flowing and affluent lifestyle was perceived in those countries, those ways of leading lives served as far-away ideals to be emulated on a modest basis, especially by young people, as you can see below. Others sought refuge in their religious beliefs that were frowned upon or counteracted by some of those governments at the time, or in their days of former military glory, which the officialdom always reinforced. The image “Neues Deutschland” is a particularly representative one, as that was the name of the newspaper that spread the official word, reinforced by a representative of the state, wearing a uniform.
The 108 images, many of them not previously published, constitute a fascinating record of a time we wish to chalk up to the past, and not see again in the future. Richard Hornik supports this annotated visual record with historical details, especially regarding Poland, drawing on his vast knowledge as TIME Magazine Eastern Bureau Chief. A close study of this entire astute ‘album’ is highly advised so that we may recognize all future attempts at repression as well.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California
Arthur Grace – Communism(s): A Cold War Album
Photographer: Arthur Grace (born in Massachusetts; lives in California)
Texts: Arthur Grace (Preface), Richard Hornik (Essay “Remembering Communism” and Afterword)
Cloth hardcover with tipped-in image; sewn; 188 pages, paginated; 8.75 x 11.25 inches (22.5 x 28.5 cm); printed and bound in Italy; ISBN 978-88-6208-767-4
Editors: Arthur Grace, Lee Kaplan, Clint Woodside
Photobook Designer: Clint Woodside
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.